WITH UNIQUE EVENT locations continuing to grow in popularity, portable products help catering professionals take the party on the road without sacrificing food quality or taste. From stoves to sinks, these cartable catering products make cooking — and cleanup — a snap.
Curtis Spake, vice president of sales and marketing for Quincy, Ill.-based Comstock-Castle Stove Co., says that while his company's portable pancake and sausage griddles are top sellers for fairs and carnivals, “Believe it or not, currently our most popular products for the event/catering market are 350- to 400-pound professional-grade restaurant stoves and ovens.” While he acknowledges that these may not be portable “in terms of an individual lifting them,” he notes that many chefs want to cook on restaurant-quality equipment, even in remote venues. To accommodate those clients, Comstock-Castle has customized many of its products by reinforcing inner frames and adding lifting handles, covering the control panels with iron bars to protect the controls during the moving process, and providing special casters for easier transport.
Sometimes it's not cooking the food that poses the biggest challenge — it's keeping it warm until mealtime. Bob Freeman, president of Charlotte, N.C.-based SMS Industries, found that out the hard way while catering an outdoor event several years ago. Even though he was frying fish, french fries and hush puppies on-site, the frigid October weather meant that “five minutes after we put them out, they weren't fit to eat,” he says. That experience led him to design the Original Freeman Cordless Food Warmer. The unit, which can be used as a warming, carving or chafing station, features adjustable temperature settings that “keep food at a perfect, serve-safe temperature, without destroying the quality of the food,” Freeman notes.
He cites both its portability — the unit weighs just 32 pounds — and the fact that it uses readily available propane cylinders as two of its benefits, adding that although the unit is very easy to use, it comes with a thorough instruction manual and telephone support number.
Portable gas and charcoal grills are best-sellers at Big John Grills & Rotisseries in Pleasant Gap, Penn., which also sells portable rotisseries, fryers, ovens and steam tables. Scott Gray, sales and marketing associate, cites the need for durability in portable cooking products. “Equipment damage in transit is one problem that caterers need to plan for,” he explains. “Our manufacturing challenge is to make products that are sturdy, but not overbuilt to the point that people cannot lift them.” For its lightweight charcoal grills, the company accomplishes this by using reinforcing channels on the underside of the fire pans, Gray says. Additionally, the grills are available with screw-in or folding legs fitted with swivel casters, making for easy transportation to any location.
The popular MCB line of portable gas grills from Brantford, Ontario-based Crown Verity takes both food preparation and cleanup into consideration. According to Joe Bourgeois, U.S. director of sales, the company's 72-inch grill is designed with large-scale events in mind — it heats up to 850 degrees in just 10 minutes with the top down and can cook 700 hamburgers in an hour. Instead of grease pans, the grill features water pans that catch and extinguish flames, thereby eliminating the occurrence of grease fires, Bourgeois notes. He adds that because any grease that falls into the pans is suspended in water, “cleanup time is significantly reduced compared to trying to clean burnt-on grease and debris.”
Crown Verity also has introduced portable hand sinks that are “getting a lot of attention due to changes in health regulations for outdoor food preparation,” such as requirements for handwashing and cleaning of utensils, Bourgeois says. The stainless steel sinks, which are fitted with casters, are available with one, two or three basins, and require a 120-volt electrical outlet to power the built-in water heater and pump.
Finally, when selecting portable catering equipment for an event, the experts advise that customers give the equipment a trial run before event day. “This will give you the best indication of the equipment's capabilities,” Gray says. “Learning the performance of your equipment is just as important as the quality of the food purchased.”
Big John Grills & Rotisseries, 800/326-9575; Comstock-Castle Stove Co., 800/637-9188; Crown Verity, 888/505-7240; SMS Industries, 800/547-6445, 704/535-2222