Meal prep company’s new production kitchen based around Rational cooking systems
The last decade has seen huge growth for meal delivery services, with a range of companies offering customers a chance to enjoy restaurant quality food in their own homes either as kits of ingredients or pre-prepared meals. While you might assume that this business model requires a large organization with the staff and infrastructure to make it profitable, modern multifunctional cooking systems like the Rational iCombi Pro and iVario Pro allow smaller companies to offer these services either as a complete business or to complement an existing catering company.
Based in Lancaster, Replenish Kitchen is a restaurant and a meal prep company that offers a range of healthy meal kits inspired by world cuisine. Offering both pre-prepared meal boxes and ingredients for home cooking, the menu is carefully chosen to support fitness and weight loss regimes.
“It’s the perfect solution for busy people who want healthy meals,” says owner Tom Wilkinson. Replenish Kitchen currently delivers 3,500 meals a week all over the mainland UK. Factoring in the restaurant and other catering services on top of deliveries, the kitchen produces between 600-700 meals a day.
With a menu that changes every three weeks, and which includes recipes that require a diverse range of techniques to prepare, Tom knew he would need the latest and most powerful appliances to help Replenish Kitchen keep up with demand.
Recently, Replenish Kitchen moved to a purpose built production kitchen. Tom worked with Lakes Catering Maintenance to design and commission the new facility. “Lakes were a pleasure to work with,” says Tom. “Great communication at every stage of the process, and everything was delivered on time.”
Tom took the opportunity to replace the kitchen’s traditional cooking systems with an iCombi Pro combi-steamer and iVario Pro 2-S multifunctional cooking system from Rational. Both the iCombi Pro and iVario Pro feature the latest developments in Rational’s market-leading cooking technology, with powerful intelligent systems controlling every step of the cooking process.
“Our Rational equipment has helped us to expand massively, purely through the consistency and quality of the results,” says Tom. “Turnaround time is reduced significantly, letting us make larger batches of each meal quickly and easily.”
Combined together, the iCombi Pro and iVario Pro can handle the preparation of every menu item. “The iVario Pro allows us to prepare rice, pasta or other carbs in one pan, while making a sauce in the other,” says Tom. “We also use it for pressure cooking.” Meanwhile, the iCombi Pro can be preparing other parts of the meals “It’s incredibly versatile,” says Tom, “We use it for roasting meat and steaming vegetables, as well as making crumbs and garnishes and smoking dishes. We’ve used it to make Carbonaras, smoked salmon, in fact, all kinds of things.”
The VarioSmoker accessory is a simple to use unit that connects to the iCombi Pro via USB and allows it to provide a precisely controlled smoked flavour to food. “You just plug it in, add the woodchips and it’s ready to go,” says Tom.
The VarioSmoker integrates seamlessly with iCookingSuite, one of the four intelligent assistants built into the iCombi Pro. “iCookingSuite really helps when we’re under pressure,” says Tom. “Once you’ve selected the recipe you know exactly what the results will be, and it even prompts you if anything needs to be adjusted as it cooks.”
Both the iCombi Pro and iVario Pro cooking systems can be controlled and monitored remotely via Rational’s ConnectedCooking service. With this, operators can add new recipes or adjust existing ones from a computer or an app, as well as getting a complete record of the operational status of the appliances. “The data we get from ConnectedCooking helps keep our paperwork up to date,” says Tom. “It’s particularly useful for maintaining HACCP data, and it really helped in getting our five-star environmental health rating.”
Moving to Rational equipment has had other effects on working life at Replenish Kitchen. “Replacing six pieces of equipment with two has really changed how we work here,” says Tom. “For example, we’ve gone from having to use three pans on burners to prepare a batch of rice to one of the iVario Pro’s pans.
“It’s freed up a lot of space, which gives our chefs more room for meal prep.”
With sustainability an increasingly important factor for businesses, the energy saving delivered by the iCombi and iVario are significant. “The kitchen no longer requires gas, just electricity,” says Tom. “Our bills are 25% less than they used to be, which demonstrates the reduced environmental impact the Rational cooking systems provide. And paying less money on bills always helps!”
With advanced hot thermal catering equipment like this, the importance of support and training is vital. “The support we get from Rational is second to none,” says Tom. “They’ve been involved since we chose them with Lakes Catering Maintenance. Before we bought, we were able to see what the cooking systems could do, thanks to the Live online demonstrations Rational organised, and they worked closely with Lakes to get them installed properly. The weekly visits while we were setting up were invaluable. Knowing that we can call up at any time if we have any questions or issues solved gives us huge peace of mind.”
With the growth of the meal prep and food delivery markets increasing year after year, Tom is confident that Replenish Kitchen is ready to meet the rising demand. “The range of recipes and operations the iCombi and iVario are capable of was impressive to begin with, but the regular software updates, adding in new recipes and cooking paths, give us plenty of options going forward. It’s good to know you’re futureproofed!”