Compact but powerful blending machines geared to fast, precise processing of fresh ingredients are now starting to make a major contribution to fresher, healthier eating at outlets across the foodservice spectrum, from fine and casual dining to QSRs and delis. Bruce Whitehall reports.
What kitchen equipment contributes most to today’s ‘greener’ and more health-conscious eating trends? With so much focus on ‘farm-to-fork’ sourcing, sustainability and superfoods, some restaurateurs would doubtless nominate the latest multi-function ovens for their precise combinations of nutrient-retaining processes. But it’s also worth looking one stage further back in the kitchen flow-line. A revolution in ingredient preparation is emerging in ‘small-but-often’ processing of whole foods, vegetables, fruit and semi-liquid mixtures.
Much cited as a menu mega-trend at the European FoodService Summit over the past decade, the appeal of ‘drinks as food’ has been apparent in both hot and cold products, from super-soups to smoothies and other blended frozen treats. Making such products in exactly portioned small batches rather than bulk quantities not only boosts menu variety and cuts wastage but can also help make service faster and more personable.
Vitamix, a US-based manufacturer of high-spec blenders, is particularly associated with fast processing of speciality beverages, cocktails, ice cream, smoothies and frozen treats for global food-service brands like McDonald’s (a major customer ever since the early 1980s when Vitamix introduced its first commercial blender, the Mix’n Machine to make McDonald’s frozen desserts, now thought to be worth $460 mn annually).
More recently, Vitamix blenders have been specified to meet growing demand for the burger chain’s smoothies and frozen coffees. Another major worldwide user is coffee giant Starbucks, which uses The Quiet One blenders to make smoothies and frozen treats at 17,000 of its coffee bars. Other major beverage chain customers include Caribou Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Jamba Juice, Smoothie King and Orange Julius.
Alongside these dessert and beverage applications, Vitamix has progressively developed the use of its blenders for a widening range of culinary prep requirements. Jonathon Sawyer, chef-proprietor with his wife Amelia of the Greenhouse Tavern and two Asian-influenced Noodle-cat restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio, epitomises a new generation of green-thinking restaurateurs. Sawyer seeks to provide his customers with natural, ‘farm-to-table’ food, sourcing local suppliers and growing many of his herb requirements in the restaurant’s rooftop garden. He also pursues environment-friendly policies in kitchen design and equipment supply.
He uses Vitamix XL and Vita-Prep machines to create soups, sauces and the emulsification required for dishes such as the Greenhouse’s popular Vegan Chocolate Chestnut Custard. He also chose locally located Vitamix because it sources 70 percent of its components within a 250-mile radius of its corporate headquarters.
Another Vitamix user with strong views on healthy eating is institutional chef Jim Perko, who now works in wellness education programmes in US hospitals following time spent in upscale hotel kitchens. He believes that the new generation of blenders can help people make real and lasting changes in their diets and overall lifestyles by facilitating the creation of good-tasting whole-food meals, with the added benefits of minimal prep and clean-up time.
Perko, a member of the 1976 US Culinary Olympic Team, believes that suitable prep tools like the Vita-Prep 3 can be a very effective way of getting people to eat healthier without a lot of laborious, time-consuming tasks.
Aside from a steady widening in capacity and control options, an important area of Vitamix design focus has been noise suppression. While the hissing and bean grinding sounds of espresso brewers tend to be considered a natural element of Italian coffee-bar ‘theatre’, the pulverising of ice and other hard ingredients, especially when machines are sited in or near the front-of-house, can be less acceptable.
This led Vitamix to develop The Quiet One countertop blender for lower processing noise in coffee bars, smoothie shops, bars and restaurants. An innovative door seal design and floating technology significantly cut vibration transmission and improved airflow.
The sound-suppressed machines are rated to operate consistently below the sound of normal conversation – 18 decibels below their closest competitor on third party tests of milk shake preparation – with the result that guests never have to raise their voices because machines are in use. The Quiet One offers up to 34 programmes for making signature drinks, smoothies, coffees and blended culinary products.
Ingredients are processed inside transparent containers made of polycarbonate, a tough, chemical-resistant plastic considered to be “virtually unbreakable” as well as offering good washability in line with fast cleanup and hygiene needs.
Vitamix claims that its focus on designing blenders for the most demanding applications makes for longer-lasting machines needing fewer repairs.