Sous vide finds mainstream success in foodservice, consumer kitchens

Once found almost exclusively in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants, sous vide is gaining a foothold in more casual foodservice segments and consumer kitchens. Advances in technology have made the method -- which cooks food in sealed containers via circulating water heated to a specific temperature -- more accessible than ever. 

Consistency and food safety for foodservice  

For chefs and restaurant operators, sous vide offers several benefits, including the ability to cook and hold foods at an exact temperature. Foods cooked sous vide won’t exceed the temperature of the circulating water, which eliminates the risk of overcooking. Perhaps more importantly, the ability to dial in a precise temperature ensures foods like meat and seafood can reach a safe doneness.

Food safety was the driving factor behind Chipotle’s adoption of sous vide cookery for its steak in 2016. Following several E.coli outbreaks in 2015, the chain switched to sous vide steak in an effort to “prevent future pathogen outbreaks at its restaurants,” a spokesperson told ABC News. Chipotle had already been using the sous vide method for other proteins, which it receives pre-cooked from a central kitchen facility before reheating in restaurants.

This approach of cooking meals in a central facility is especially well-suited to the growing wave of virtual restaurants. Sous Vide Kitchen in New York City bills itself as a Virtual Food Hall, where diners can order dishes from a wide range of concepts for delivery, take-out or eating at the food hall’s seating area. Building each concept’s menu around sous vide allows dishes to be ready to serve in just six minutes, and keeps operating costs low while promoting food safety and minimizing waste, JBH Advisory’s Brian Berger told Forbes. The firm launched Sous Vide Kitchen in 2017, after testing the sous-vide driven concept with a series of other restaurants. 

Other eateries have followed suit, including San Francisco fast-casual chain Bamboo Asia, which opened a 10,000-square-foot virtual kitchen in 2018, QSR Magazine reported. The chain’s delivery and catering business was growing so quickly that its traditional restaurant kitchens couldn’t keep up. The new kitchen space houses eight large sous vide baths that cooks use to prepare food for delivery orders and Bamboo Asia’s three restaurant locations. 

Both Sous Vide Kitchen’s Berger and Bamboo Asia CEO Sebastiaan van de Rijt praised the labor saving benefits of sous vide cooking. Pre-cooked meals mean Sous Vide Kitchen doesn’t “need highly skilled culinarians,” Berger said. “Our process enables us to hire based on hospitality attitude.”

Convenience and culinary creativity for the home cook

For consumers who don’t consider themselves to be highly skilled in the culinary department, sous vide can offer a convenient shortcut to delicious meals. While its origins in fine dining are still the draw for more gourmet-minded consumers (who can find endless inspiration in cookbooks and YouTube videos), sous vide is also gaining fans who prefer a hands-off approach to cooking.

The growing range of sous vide devices marketed to home cooks offer features that maximize convenience. Many models pair with an app consumers can use to control and monitor cook times right from their smartphones.

Deciding what to cook with their sous vide will only get easier for consumers as food manufacturers and retailers roll out more options. New Jersey-based grocery retailer ShopRite saw an increase in sales of sous vide products, such as vacuum-sealed marinated meats, last year, spokesperson Karen Meleta told Supermarket Perimeter

“Most people want to eat good food, but they don’t have time to cook,” she said. “With sous vide, you eliminate the overcooking issue and for that reason, people can always look forward to a perfectly cooked meal with little effort.”

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