A Whole New Take on 'Slow Food'

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Thermodyne low-temperature oven helps the Swan Inn at Milton Keynes reinvent British country pub cooking

Craig Brown with the Swan Inn's Thermodyne

I need one less person in the kitchen, because it effectively does the work of a sous chef. I expect it to last at least five years for an investment roughly equal to the cost of a chef for six months – that's a huge saving.

The Swan Inn is the original local pub at the rural heart of the original Milton Keynes village. From the outside The Swan appears as if it's hardly changed in centuries, while being in the middle of Britain's most futuristic city.

But looks can deceive. Behind the quaint thatch and white plaster, and underneath that traditional interior, it's as up to date as any part of the new city.

The Swan is one of the first sites in the UK to embrace the Thermodyne precision heat-transfer system, which provides heat to 'slow cook' food without subjecting it to high temperatures that cause shrinkage, overcooking and drying out.

The result has been dramatic in several ways. The quality of the food, the speed and quality of service, profitability for the kitchen and reduced stress are just some of the advantages.

The first property in the new Little Gems Country Dining pub group, The Swan was refurbished and reopened in 2007 with a mission to reinvent the country inn.

Founder/owner Steve Wilkins says that while the Swan keeps the unspoilt essence of a traditional English pub, everything was dramatically upgraded, including a level of foodservice designed to rival starred restaurants – but at affordable prices. Everything on the menu is made fresh on site - even breads and ice cream - while menus are devised monthly to feature seasonal and local foods. Most of the herbs used are grown in the pub's own garden, and the Swan actively encourages customers to bring in their own home-grown vegetables to barter for drinks or food over the counter.

When Advance Catering Equipment first suggested installing the Thermodyne 1900DWDT dual temperature slow-cooking cabinet, head chef Craig Brown was skeptical of the claims. But the results, he says, have been an eye-opener. More and more of his menu is being prepared, cooked and held in the new unit, and it has effectively acted as a new member of staff, removing the need to hire an extra sous chef.

"We use it for almost all our main courses. We'll slow cook whole sirloins, for example, and they end up perfect throughout, maintained at the right temperature on the outside whilst remaining perfectly pink inside. Shrinkage is much, much less. Less, even, than in combi cooking or steaming."

The Thermodyne is a low-temperature system that provides a chef with the ability to cook, hold and reheat without overcooking or drying out. Unlike conventional ovens, where the heat is introduced to the cabinet cavity, usually by fan, with Thermodyne the heat is transferred by conduction from glycol liquid within the shelves of the oven.

With a two-cabinet Thermodyne unit, typically the lower cabinet is used for slow cooking, often at a temperature of about 66C, while the upper cabinet might be for holding foods that are already cooked, at a slightly higher temperature of around 74C. This is the opposite of conventional cooking, where holding temperatures are much lower than cooking temperatures.

Steve Wilkins believes that they've pioneered the use of this slow-cooking technology for desserts. The three most popular desserts on the Swan menu - vanilla crème brulee, cheesecake with caramelised bananas, and dessert tarts of chocolate or lemon - are all cooked superbly in the Thermodyne, something Steve Wilkins was not expecting when he committed to the technology.

This is a frequent experience with new technology, argues Steve Coates of Advance Catering Equipment. "While we can come up with the actual technical developments, it is often the users who experiment and find new, unexpected ways to use it. As Thermodyne is adopted more widely, it's not just simply 'deskilling' chefs. As The Swan has shown, we think it will give them new inspiration and creativity."

Installing the Thermodyne has also freed up a lot of space in the kitchen and reduced staffing costs, says Craig Brown. "I need one less person in the kitchen, because it effectively does the work of a sous chef. I expect it to last at least five years for an investment roughly equal to the cost of a chef for six months – that's a huge saving."

Further savings are coming from lower running costs. Because Thermodyne operates at such low temperatures it's much more frugal than traditional energy-hungry cooking equipment.

Craig Brown points out that the Thermodyne is pretty much maintenance-free and can be left on as long as it's being used. The doors can also be left open for short periods without any heat loss and because it operates at such low temperatures, it's extremely easy to clean.

"There's no smoke inside the cabinet and no baked-on carbon deposits," says Craig. "I can remove the doors for washing, and the interior easily wipes clean."

He's also impressed with the potential of the 'pass through' feature, whereby a Thermodyne can be installed to be loaded on one side and unloaded on the other. "We don't need that feature ourselves, but I can well imagine many kitchen layouts where it would be really useful.

"It's no exaggeration to say that now I don't like to think how we'd work if we didn't have it. Not only would our staff and food costs shoot up, but service would suffer and our tempers would rise along with the temperature. This is the calmest and most efficient kitchen I've ever worked in, and a large measure of this is thanks to the Thermodyne."

For more information on the Thermodyne range contact Advance Catering Equipment on 0800 597 7427 or visit http://www.advancegroupuk.co.uk.

Swan Inn Milton Keynes – Sep-09
Press Enquiries:
Toni Turner or Alison Haynes at The Publicity Works: 01263 761000
Ian or Nuala at Advance Catering: 0800 597 7427


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