Woodbridge School in Suffolk is an independent school with a history stretching back to 1662, when local lawyer Robert Marryott, known as ‘the great eater’, gathered local dignitaries to discuss creating a school for the poor of the town.
Food remains a key part of the character of the establishment. “We serve 800 covers a day,” says Jon Ellis, the school’s executive head chef. “That includes breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as catering for in-house and external events, anything from coffee and homemade biscuits to functions of up to 300 people. The pupils here have quite adventurous tastes, one of our most popular dishes is Chicken Katsu curry, Japanese style.”
There are also the standard considerations of any large catering operation. “We have to take into account a wide range of dietary needs, as well as the top fourteen allergens, plus religious requirements.”
One of their main concerns has been to provide pupils with the healthiest and freshest meals possible. “Our old equipment was letting us down in that regard,” says Jon. “At lunch we have a two hour service window, and we used to have to put food into hot hold cabinets in order to meet the demand. It would be drying out, and it wouldn’t be in perfect condition when it was served, so we weren’t happy.”
When the school’s old equipment reached the end of its life they carefully considered their options before choosing any replacements.
“We decided to move with the times and go with multifunctional equipment, and you might as well go with the best, so we picked the market leader! Which is why Woodbridge School chose Rational appliances. When we saw how flexible the VarioCookingCenter and the SelfCookingCenter were, it became clear how much they could do if used in combination with each other.”
The VarioCookingCenter (VCC) combines appliances like tilting pans, boilers, deep fat fryers and more, and includes single and dual pan units. The SelfCookingCenter (SCC) is a combi oven that can grill, bake, roast or steam food. Used independently they are a powerful addition to any catering operation, and together the two units can replace all of the functions of a traditional cookline.
“Cooking large batches of food has absolutely changed how we work,” says Jon. “The large capacity of the VCC 311+ and SCC 201 in particular means we can avoid having to put food into holding cabinets, everything we serve is so much fresher now.”
The two different appliances complement each other perfectly. “Many recipes we do require us to use both of them, and we’re always coming up with new ideas for that,” says Jon. “They can even be used to replicate cooking techniques that would normally require specialised equipment.
“For example, we’ve been making Chicken Tandoori with them. We cook the meat in the SCC to get that beautiful char, whip up the sauce in the VCC and then combine them just before they are served. It’s just fantastically fresh! By combining the capabilities of the VCC and SCC we’ve been able to add more variety to our menu, with more complex dishes, while reducing our overall workload.”
One of the features that gives Rational appliances their power is the iCookingControl software. This allows operators to set the parameters for each recipe, with the system constantly monitoring internal conditions and automatically adjusting the cooking time and temperature as required.
“The programs are incredibly useful,” says Jon. “They reduce cooking time, and we can be sure that the results will be exactly what we want every time, which is vital to us.”
It also makes training very simple. “The support we’ve received from Rational has been second to none, really helping us to understand what the equipment can do,” says Jon. “The fact it’s so easy to learn how to use also helps when we have new staff in, it’s simple enough to get them up and running with it.”
Reducing the amount of time staff need to monitor cooking food has helped in other ways. As Jon explains, “We’re able to focus more on preparing everything to a much higher standard than we were previously with the old equipment.”
Other time saving measures include the automatic cleaning systems. “For example, being able to set the self-cleaning cycle to clean itself at the end of a shift, also helps to free up staff,” says Jon.
The equipment is also having an effect on energy consumption and food waste. “Before we even got the new equipment, we realised that we’d be able to install more capacity than we had previously while keeping overall energy consumption down,” says Jon. “The system can give us accurate estimates of how much energy each operation will use, which helps us to work out the cost of everything before we begin, which is enormously helpful.
“We’re also seeing a noticeable reduction in food waste thanks to the peace of mind the automatic systems give us, not having to rely on staff getting the timings exactly right is a bonus. The experience of moving to Rational equipment has been marvellous every step of the way,” says Jon. “From training and advice and contact with Rodney Lankester, our Rational development chef, to improving the quality of the food we’re serving, to the quality of our staff’s working life, we are hugely pleased with how it’s working out.”
RATIONAL is the leading provider in hot food preparation equipment and, with the VarioCookingCenter and SelfCookingCenter, the company delivers all a commercial kitchen’s thermal cooking requirements. Together, the two appliances offer the best cooking solutions.
For information and brochures, or to come to a free VarioCookingCenter Live or SelfCookingCenter Live demonstration, call +44 (0)1582 480388, freephone 0800 389 2944 or visit www.rational-online.com