To serve cooked food, piping hot during breakfast, lunch and dinner in hotels, restaurants, canteens in banquet halls or at site is always a challenge. Normally food is supposed to be served hot for a duration of 3 to 4 hours without change in the taste. While in canteens for bulk serving bain-marie is being used, which works on electric resistance coils. At other places like hotels, restaurants, marriage functions and parties, food warmers are used. These are popularly known as chaffers. These vessels have a water pan, that generates steam and the steam keeps the food in the pan hot enough without changing the taste.
Earlier bigger 12/13 liter vessels were used with fuel/gel at the bottom to heat the water. However these have been replaced by smaller vessels 7 to 9 liters and the gels have been replaced by electric resistance coils. It is important to make sure that the foods are kept at around 65 degrees. This is done by keeping the water at around 75 to 80 degrees. The coils working on 375 watts have failed to keep the 1.5 to 2 ltrs of water around 75 to 80 degrees. The thermostats used also had maintenance issues apart from safety problems faced by hoteliers.
Inductions food warmers entered the catering industry via the 5 star hotels as long as 15 years back. However the brands like, Inducs, Cooktek, Stella, Perfect, Scholl had their own problems of repairs and after sales services as the importers were only suppliers and did not have sufficient knowledge of repairs and servicing. The demos also were never done, and installation and working manuals were not provided. The electronics being very sensitive to voltage fluctuations, there are frequent hic ups which the suppliers have failed to address.
The simple solution of keeping 2 /3 ltrs of water at 75 to 80 degrees have been made complex by imported brands and the cost of these food warmers vary from INR 25,000/- to INR 125,000, per unit. Caterers however cannot afford such a heavy expense as they need to transport the materials for catering at sites. The wear and tear and glass breakages are major issues apart from the cost factor. Voltage fluctuations also are major issue as they use generators at the open party plots during marriage functions and conventions.
The Gel/Fuels used for food warming are costing INR 9/- per hour per Buffet Chaffer. The Gel/Fuel is a synthetic product which emits typical odor, requires refilling at regular intervals, it is also a flame that uses oxygen and emits carbon hence in a closed hall the suffocation could become an issue. Compared to this an induction warmer is timer based, costs only Rs. 1.50 per hour, refilling is not an issue, does not use oxygen or emit carbon. With increasing awareness more and more caterers are adopting the induction technology.
Indian manufacturers of induction food warmers are only a few. There are some leading brands that promote their products through their wide distribution networks, however, training, after sales service and preventive maintenance still remain a major issue. The fact that, in induction technology, the generator of heat is the vessel is missed by users, which creates heating issues. The Chaffers have to be having magnetic bottom for the water pan to create maximum heat with minimum input power and thus get maximum savings.
It is also observed that in making the banquet halls and restaurants more vibrant and colorful, branded hotels are using cast iron made buffet warmers. Though they do serve the purpose of making the environment look vibrant, cast iron vessels without creating steam, directly heat the foods. There are very many complaints of foods getting burnt, even while working on the lowest wattage levels. It is strongly suggested that these vessels should be used only as water pan rather than vegetable pan, thereby getting uniform heat through steam as well as heating food right till the top of the food level as this is not done by direct heating of the bottom of the cast iron vessel.
These days there is tremendous demand for live counters by caterers and with flames having safety issues, there is a need for making live counters with inductions. Applications have been developed, where Bhajipav Tawa, Tikki Tawa, Jalebi Thala, Dosa Tawa, Chinese Woks, Pasta Live Counters, Idli/Dhokla and such steamed products can all be done through inductions.
I am more than confidant that induction technology is a boon to the hospitality industry. However, it must be used after understanding the strength and the limitations properly so that the technology is not blamed unnecessarily.
By Anil Desai, Induction Specialist