Cook-chill processes are becoming extremely popular for hospital and school foodservice departments, along with fast food, chain and fine dining restaurants. The cook-chill process is an advanced processing technique that uses specific conditions to prepare food for consumption at a later time. While this process is relatively new and scientific, it can be used for every day restaurants and save you costs on time and labor in the end.
What Is It?
Cook-chill applications are an advanced form of food preparation. First you cook your food, fill it into bags or storage containers, and then chill it down slowly to a safe food temperature. Operations then store it in refrigerators or freezers it to make the food last longer.
Cook-chill applications are economically driven to help food prep run smoother and improve efficiency, explains the Foodservice Equipment & Supplies Magazine webinar. With this process, your food can last several days or even weeks (depending on the type of food). This allows for greater menu variety, an efficient use of locally and seasonal sourced ingredients, quality control and minimizing food waste. Connie Dickson, Principal at Robert Rippe & Associates, explains why operators may turn to cook chill applications, “[You could use] cook-chill to build inventory and give customers the variety they like.”
Cook-chill can also help operators become more efficient in production, improve cost reduction and address storage issues in the kitchen. You can make larger batches using a cook-chill method that will last a lot longer, without sacrificing a lot of additional effort. Dealing with peak traffic periods will become much easier if you use cook-chill, allowing for use when the demand is high. Operators will be able to produce for inventory reasons, and not demand.
Paul Mackesey, Principal at Mackesey and Associates, explained during FE&S’ “Best Practices for Cook-Chill Applications” webinar that this process allows for tighter control on how your product is prepared and stored. Cook-chill also impacts food safety, because once the process isn’t being followed properly, it only takes a minute for something to go wrong. One of the most important qualities for a restaurateur is labor efficiency. Mackesey explained that cook-chill “makes the most efficient use of labor. People are really concerned about high cost associated with labor, so anything they can do to drive effective and efficient use of labor is a benefit to them.”
Cook-chill allows for an increase interest using fresh, local ingredients, addressing local purchasing requirements (such as bulk orders), meeting governmental nutritional requirements and works well with components operators may frequently use, like daily soup for example. The best types of food that are suitable for cook-chill are items that can be safely held for at least a few days. Good fits can include stews, chili, casseroles and even meat. A bad fit that you should never use cook chill on? Salads.
Paul Hysen, Principal at Hysen Associates, states “[Operators need to] understand the sanitation issues, study your menu to determine what items might be suitable for cook-chill, identify which recipes may require modification, determine what method you will use to quickly chill product to food-safe temperatures. Remember, not everything on your menu will be able for cook chill applications.”
Operators must also be able to chill product rapidly – just air cooling food down in your environment will not work. You also need to transition the food temperature from the danger zone as quickly as possible.
What types of products can you use for cook-chill applications? It depends on how long you can store a product, but the process can be very sophisticated (such as tumble chillers or blast chillers) or very simple (think ice wands and baths), explained Paul Mackesy.
How should a restaurant operation equip their own cook-chill operation? “Review current and future menus, document volume, analyze cooking methods and equipment for each menu item, determine the chilling method – How are you going to cook it? How are you going to chill it? This could be a small or significant part of your production,” explains Connie Dickson.
Remember, using a cook-chill application and process allows for major cost savings and time and labor savings in the end. You can use this method to preserve fresh, in-season ingredients for use all year round, enhance flavor profiles in soups or stews and save on time and labor preparing batches of the same menu item.
Start by testing this process on a few key menu items, and see if it works for you. You’d be surprised! To learn more about this process, you can watch the entire webinar from Foodservice Equipment & Supplies here, and shop Central for all of your cook-chill needs!