It’s not uncommon for trends within the foodservice industry to start at the figurative “top” and work their way “down”.
Such is the case for sous vide cooking, which had its ground-breaking moments in fine dining establishments, and is now taking off in fast casual operations.
Sous Vide is French for “under vacuum” and it is the process by which some combination of protein, fruits, vegetables and spices is vacuum-packed in food-grade plastic. The packet is then submerged in a warm water bath for an extended period of time until its contents are cooked to the desired internal temperature.
This method of cooking fits perfectly in fast casual operations primarily because of its reliability. The sous vide method makes it easy to cook a high-quality dish repeatedly. This characteristic is especially important in operations that may experience high turnover, have a majority of part-time staff and/or minimal training resources.
For operations that have locations nationwide, sous vide is a great method because it provides a way for the operation to ensure the quality of its food across the board. One example of this comes from Chipotle, which sous vide cooks all of the meat for its barbacoa and carnitas in one central location and then ships the meat to its stores to be finished on the flattop grill before service. This process allows Chipotle to ensure that its meat is cooked to the proper internal temperature, without compromising a precise, pure and consistent flavor. Because the product is vacuum-packed before it’s cooked, it is also easy to ship.
In a market segment where signature flavor is also a huge point of differentiation, sous vide becomes a great tool. The reason is that the process eliminates several variables that can alter flavor. Once the food is vacuum-packed the only things that can influence the flavor are the ingredients in the packet. This measure of control practically guarantees that the flavor will be consistently pure, making it great for a company like Panera to use on its new menu items including steak, turkey and salmon for sandwiches.
Recognizing that a key component to a successful sous vide process is using the proper equipment, manufacturers like Vollrath and Randell have introduced products specifically designed for sous vide cooking.
Sous vide cooking is a burgeoning trend in fast casual dining. It’s a reliable, easy-to-teach cooking method that produces consistently high-quality product. Now that sounds like a recipe for success in any operation.