Posted by Patrick Maness
It’s safe to say one of the most fundamental parts of any kitchen, whether it’s a kitchen from 2,000 years ago or one of today’s modern, advanced kitchens, is the ability to heat food. At the center of every kitchen (with the exception of some raw-food kitchens) is fire.
It’s been that way for thousands of years, probably since our ancestors huddled around burning sticks in a damp cave. Today, most kitchens have gas ranges or gas-fired ovens. But fire’s millennia-long predominance in the kitchen might be coming to an end.
We all know there have been electric ways of heating food for decades: microwaves, convection ovens, electric range tops. Though these items are in many kitchens, they are usually found in residential homes. Advances in technology, however, have resulted in gourmet-quality equipment — and innovation.
One of the most exciting innovations in recent times is the Combitherm Combi Oven. This piece of equipment combines a convection oven, kettle, steamer, fryer, smoker and dehydrator all in one.
All-in-one or do-it-all appliances are often met with skepticism from chefs who need very specific tools to do specific tasks. But many restaurants and cooks have been surprised by how truly versatile and flexible these ovens are. The same unit that can steam broccoli can smoke ribs, fry bacon, and rapidly retherm premade trays of food.
In the next five or 10 years, the same technology that goes into the Combitherm ovens will likely become more refined and widely used, and thousands more kitchens may be moving to an all-in-one cooking, smoking, frying, baking and cooling system.
Another exciting development that will have a big effect on fast, casual restaurants is known as the Tovala oven. Though very much in the early stages of development, and currently targeted at consumers for use in the home, the idea behind the Tovala oven is that it’s a smart oven that knows how to precisely cook the meals you put in. It does this by using an optical scan to read bar codes on specific, premade meals, then properly cooks them, producing hot, delicious meals.
The big-picture idea behind the Tovala oven is to partner with meal delivery services like Blue Apron to make the home-cooking experience easier and more convenient for consumers. But it’s not hard to imagine that some day, fast-casual restaurants will have their menu items packaged at a central facility, delivered and prepared by scanning the bar code on the item, and cooked in a Tovala-like oven.
With these developments, an open, gas-fed flame may become far less common in commercial kitchens.