His guests are delighted with the quality of the food and regularly award good reviews on the relevant Internet platforms. In terms of technology, the cost is low: vacuum sealing of the dishes in a vacuum bag is carried out by a compact chamber machine, and cooking occurs in a water bath.
Parkville, the picturesque town in the U.S. state of Missouri, is the hometown of Guillaume and Ingrid Hanriot. For many years, the two French-born US citizens have been operating the Café des Amis – a cozy bistro which serves a range of traditional and new dishes of French Haute cuisine. In addition to sophisticated hors d’oeuvres, healthy salads and delicious crêpes, Guillaume and Ingrid Hanriot also serve unusual main dishes such as “mussels à la odile,” “braised rabbit with Dijon mustard” and “pâté maison.” Its rustic charm, exquisite service and freshly prepared food choices have made the Café des Amis well known far beyond the borders of Missouri. The bistro is fully booked almost every weekend down to the last of its 40 seats.
To fully meet the needs of every guest, the four-member team of chefs invests a great deal of time. In accordance with this, the processes in the kitchen were elaborate. Café des Amis is owned and operated by Guillaume Hanriot and his wife Ingrid Hanriot. Owner and chef Guillaume Hanriot looks back: “We usually prepared the entire dinner menu fresh every day. For special events or parties where we were very busy, we often began with the preparation two to three days in advance. However, we often had problems with assessing the correct amount with all dishes, which in turn meant that there were a great deal of leftovers.”
This is a situation that is found in many small catering businesses; the biggest challenge is thus keeping costs under control. If too much food is produced, the margins are reduced, especially since the kitchen staff of the Café des Amis had no way to preserve the excess production for an extended period.
In early 2013, Guillaume and Ingrid Hanriot decided to expand their kitchen operations to include the “sous-vide” method, which also comes from France. In this method, meat, fish, and vegetables are sealed in a vacuum bag and then cooked at relatively low temperatures of 50 to 85 degrees Celsius in a water bath. Roast or infrared thermometers monitor the core temperature of the bag contents.
The new method quickly revolutionised the kitchen organisation in the Café des Amis: “We are now much more capable of preparing individual dishes in advance. In this way, we were allowed to focus much more on the quality of food,” says Guillaume Hanriot. “Since we package the raw foods and ingredients in vacuum bags, their shelf life has been extended to up to 30 days, provided the temperature in the refrigerator is around 2 degrees Celcius. Vacuum-packed food that has already been cooked has a shelf life of up to seven days, if kept at below 5 degree Celcius.”
Since the vacuum bags are reliably sealed, neither the liquids in the product nor the nutrients or flavours escape during the cooking process. Ingredients such as spices, marinades or herbs give their flavours to the dish more intensively with this cooking method; this allows the chef to use the ingredients more sparingly. Since the air is largely removed from the film pouch during vacuuming, fish and meat stay fresh longer and are well protected against discoloration and oxidation.
Thanks to sous-vide, the owner of Café des Amis can now prepare the portions without being rushed and has a better handle on portion sizes – each dish has its precise weight. Even in terms of hygiene and logistics, the kitchen team benefits from the modern cooking method: the kitchen and refrigerator are cleaner because all the ingredients are stored in sealed film pouches. The weekly inventory is faster and more accurate; now the staff simply count the packs – they know the weight exactly and thus precisely what is still available. “The sous-vide method is perfect for our small kitchen. Our profit margin is now significantly higher, as we are able to offer premium cuisine with fewer leftovers and waste,” says Guillaume Hanriot, explaining a further benefit.
In terms of technology, the introduction of the new preparation concept was no big deal: In April 2013, the owner of the Café des Amis purchased a C 200 chamber machine. The entry-level model of the packaging specialist is regarded on the market as robust, precise and extremely efficient, and is suitable for a wide range of products, film pouches and pouch sizes. With a footprint of just
50 x 36 centimetres and a weight of 70 kilograms, the C 200 is accommodated on a sturdy table in the kitchen of Café des Amis, making it easily accessible for the daily procedures. MULTIVAC product manager Michael Parrish describes other advantages of the compact model: “Our table machines are the ideal packaging solution for small businesses. Thanks to their compact dimensions, they can be accommodated everywhere, and, like all our chamber machines, they are very simple to operate. All settings can be saved as a recipe. This ensures that reproducible and reliable results are achieved.”
The C 200 is equipped with a vacuum sensor that measures the vacuum achieved in the chamber. This distinguishes it from other chamber machines which are usually equipped with a timer. The vacuum sensor ensures that there is always the same vacuum value in the chamber, thus ensuring reproducible, high-quality packaging. “The C 200 is pure quality. It is extremely reliable and easy to use”, says the chef.
The proprietor of Café des Amis also received assistance from the local service office of MULTIVAC for the introduction of the necessary HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) concept. The packaging specialist helped the staff of Café des Amis to make the processes more efficient, safer and thus more cost-effective. A specially created HACCP guide contains useful information. “The structured introduction of methods for handling and storing food has really opened my eyes as a manager. The key factor was the training of my employees, who need to understand and internalise the dangers of incorrect handling. As a restaurant business, safety has the highest priority,” says Guillaume Hanriot.
The Café des Amis receives consistently high ratings and positive customer feedback. Users of the Internet platforms Yelp and Urbanspoon gave the Café des Amis 4.5 out of 5 stars on average. Guillaume Hanriot attributes the consistently high ratings by the platform users, who are also his guests, to the perfect sous-vide cooking process and the newly structured kitchen processes. “We now have more control regarding hygiene, inventory, consistency and costs. We have many less complaints, and virtually none regarding the cuisine,” is the conclusion of the restaurateur.