Twenty pieces of cutting-edge equipment were honored with 2023 Kitchen Innovation Awards at last month’s National Restaurant Association Expo.
The winners were decided by a panel of eight experts in the field. To keep tabs on the most notable developments in this year’s crop, we followed up with two of the original judges.
Dan Bendall, principal of foodservice design company Food Strategies Inc., cited labor savings as the most significant benefit. “Robotics and artificial intelligence were particularly prominent in the most successful entries,” the authors write.
According to Bendall, the French fry robot from Atosa overcomes both the labor scarcity problem and the uniformity problem in fast food outlets.
You don’t have to worry that a teenager may overcook the fries or make them mushy, he explained. As a complete package, the apparatus also functions as a dispenser and disposal station.
President emeritus of the consulting firm Cini-Little International, Richard Eisenbarth, categorized 16 of the 20 winning products as labor savings and 12 as using some type of artificial intelligence.
“Artificial intelligence was given more consideration than ever before,” Eisenbarth stated. The year before last, we had recently emerged from COVID, and therefore, several companies paused their R&D on new technologies. Yet technology’s importance has been restored.
“Technological innovation is more serious and difficult,” Bendall concurred. “It was much more visible only a few years ago.” He mentioned a combi oven that had a picture of a chicken on a button. To prepare the chicken, a cook merely pushed the button. These days, machines may be instructed to operate independently of humans.
The ConvoSense, this year’s best combination oven, can detect what’s being cooked as soon as it’s filled.
Several of the entries were high-tech, but the judges also commended those that used simpler methods. UltraRinse, made by T&S Brass & Bronze Works, has fans in both Bendall and Eisenbarth. It’s a nozzle for attaching to a sink or bathtub faucet that sprays water out of many orifices. The end result is a faster and more effective way to clean produce and defrost meat.
According to Bendall, “this device is accessible and inexpensive even to mom and pop eateries who can’t invest in robots,” yet it saves time and encourages hygiene.
With the global epidemic, cleanliness and safety were increasingly important issues, and Eisenbarth found that seven of the grantees specifically addressed these issues. Taylor Hydra Rinse was high up on his list of must-have products. It may be attached to soft-serve or shake machines and cleans them with no disassembly required. “That completely changes the game,” Eisenbarth added.
Two other items were selected as general winners because of their ability to maintain safe temperatures for food storage. The saute stations from Kwick Cool include dual temperature controls to keep food at a safe temperature in the pan until it’s ready to cook, and the ImmersaFlex generates water convection for rapid thawing.
Safety and sanitary equipment received “more than evolutionary, they were genuinely inventive” advances this year, according to Eisenbarth. When considering return on investment (ROI), it’s clear that any of these options might yield positive results rather quickly.
One additional universal theme among the 20 prize-winners was a focus on minimising physical footprint. Eisenbarth and Bendall were particularly impressed by the Hobart two-tiered under-the-counter dish machine. This is the first two-rack model created specifically for a compact form factor.
This year’s entries emphasized labor, time, and space savings at the expense of sustainability, which had previously been a priority. Every new piece of machinery may have an implicit goal of reducing waste and being more environmentally friendly, but you can expect that manufacturers are looking at ways to use technology and artificial intelligence to solve these problems.
Bendall said that manufacturers were not slowing down research and development. There were a lot of deserving recipients, and we were glad to see that there were more than just the 20 we’d originally planned on honoring. These companies seek radical new approaches, not simply incremental enhancements.