‘I’ve always had a great relationship with Sous Vide Tools. I’ve worked with them for 3 or 4 years now. These guys are the specialists and know what works for different kitchens; they make fair and expert decisions so no need for a middleman. When I tell them what my service needs they make sound decisions taking into account the kitchen I work in and space I have.”
Kenny Atkinson – Double Michelin-starred chef and two time Great British Menu finalist, Kenny Atkinson of House of Tides.
Q&A re vacuum packing and sous vide cooking:
Why do you vacuum pack your food?
Because it prevents bacteria and keeps ingredients fresh for longer, so primarily for preserving but I also do it for marinating. It also allows for better portion control and helps with stock control and storage – we can stack the vacuum packed food so saves on space. It also keeps things clean as there is no leaking or dripping.
Vacuum packing is used in sous vide cooking, do you cook sous vide and if so, why?
Yes, we cook sous vide a lot. Essentially because of the consistency it gives. We know we’ll get perfectly cooked food, every time, when we cook sous vide. Consistency is really important in any kitchen – customers expect quality whether we are doing 6 covers or 60. We’re only human at the end of the day and to achieve perfect results, every time, under the pressures of a busy kitchen is really hard, and stressful. Producing perfect dishes every time is like asking Andy Murray to hit the perfect serve every time. By cooking sous vide we maintain consistency and reduce the stress and pressure on chefs in the kitchen which therefore helps keep our staff happy. This helps too with retaining staff. I’d much rather get 95, 96, 97% perfect every time than 60% perfect most of the time and 95 some of the time. And, with less pressure on the chefs we’re able to focus on other elements of the dish.
How long have you cooked sous vide, and why?
For 6 or 7 years. I started cooking sous vide at my restaurant, where I got my first Michelin star – St Martin’s on the Isle, over in the Isles of Scilly. Over there it was very much island lifestyle and everyone wanted to eat early, 6.30ish – we would do up to 70 covers a night, the majority in the early evening, and were struggling to keep up with demand. I read about sous vide which was popular then in the US, France and Spain and realised this was growing in restaurants in the UK. Equipment has come a long way since then though, it’s much more intelligent and accessible.
What foods do you cook sous vide and how often do you use it?
I use sous vide throughout the majority of our daily service and for preparation – for three main reasons: flexibility, flavour and finish. I pickle veg and make preserves – it’s great as it gives me flexibility to play with flavours and create sauces, marinades and preserves in advance. It’s great for vegetables as it really locks in the flavours and cooks perfectly without the risk of over or undercooking – saving on wastage. Overcooking veg is an easy but costly mistake in a kitchen so anything that avoids this whilst intensifying flavours is more than worth it to me.
I also cook the majority of our meat sous vide too – beef, lamb, etc. Slow-cooking it this way tenderizes the meat and amplifies the flavours. We can also pre-cook the meats ahead of service and then regenerate them to order, giving us a nice controlled service.
How does sous vide influence your menu?
A lot. We can really play with flavours and add extra elements to dishes that we wouldn’t be able to do if solely working from the pan – it adds too much pressure at already intense times. It therefore enables us to be more adventurous with our dishes giving the customer a better experience.
What equipment do you use and why?
I have three PolyScience Thermal Circulators – they’re ideal as I have a small kitchen so can move the circulators around to where I want them to be. I don’t have the worktop or storage space for water baths so the thermal circulators do the trick perfectly.
What business benefits do you get from cooking sous vide?
It certainly helps save on staff turnover. By relieving pressure from an already busy environment it helps make work in the kitchen more enjoyable. It also saves on wastage – by vacuum packing and pre-cooking we can extend the shelf life of produce. It also gives control. It also saves on holiday cover costs as when the chef is on holiday the commis chef can step in more confidently as cooking sous vide takes pressure off – a commis chef is unlikely to be confident to cover all bases otherwise.
Do you have any other comments re sous vide?
A big saving I’ve noticed in the kitchen is on the amount of fat we use. When roasting meat, such as confit of duck legs, you have to add glugs of fat to the tray but when sous viding it I just use a spoonful or two in the bag. This saves a lot on money but is also a lot healthier too!
Cooking sous vide is also perfect for dinner parties. Everything can be prepared in advance removing the pressure and enabling the host to be able to socialise with their guests. I do it when I have guests at home!