With the restaurant industry experiencing labor shortages and rising labor costs, simplifying cooking processes and decreasing prep times has been a boon to the industry.
Sous vide is increasingly being recognized in the restaurant industry for the benefits that come with its use. The advanced, French-originated cooking method not only provides enhanced dining experiences but also reduces food and labor costs. In the face of national inflation, sous vide has provided restaurants with a layer of immunity. The latest inflation numbers from April show food prices increasing 9.4 percent and meat and poultry prices increasing a whopping 14.3 percent over the previous year. Additionally, restaurants struggle to find workers as the added expenses of inflation stifle supply chains and operations. Sous vide reduces some of these costs by offering a cooking method that cuts down on preparation, labor, and time spent in the kitchen.
Sous vide, translated in French as “under vacuum,” involves vacuum sealing foods in containers—typically food-grade plastic pouches—which are then immersed in water and heated to precise temperatures and cooked to perfection. The final product retains juices and flavors that are usually lost in traditional cooking methods. The sous vide method enhances texture and tenderness, while eliminating variables such as under- and over-cooked meat.
Because sous vide products are vacuum-sealed, they can be frozen and transported globally, as they have a frozen shelf life of 18 months or more—significantly longer than perishable food items. Meals can be taken out of the freezer and kept in refrigerators for up to seven days, which gives restaurants and kitchen staff the ability to plan for meals and prep in advance with lowered waste. The long shelf life of sous vide, coupled with the labor-saving costs and inflation immunity, add up to large savings in restaurants. The seamless transfer from supplier to a restaurant to the customer is another way sous vide reduces costs.
With the restaurant industry experiencing labor shortages and rising labor costs, simplifying cooking processes and decreasing prep times has been a boon to the industry. In a traditional restaurant environment, the prep cook spends many hours organizing, stocking items, chopping and boiling ingredients, reducing stocks, and many other time-consuming tasks. Sous vide can greatly reduce the amount of time that workers spend on these duties. The food is already fully cooked, ready to be served. Vendors offer prepared sous vide protein dishes, stews, sauces, soups, vegetarian dishes, pasta meals, and even dessert items, some of which come fully seasoned. Nearly every part of a menu can be prepared using sous vide.
Using sous vide suppliers is also a way for restaurants to lock in prices for future events, banquets, or menu offerings. Inflation is slated to increase the cost of food supplies for the foreseeable future, as transportation costs and supply chain constraints continue to rise. Business owners can purchase sous vide prepared foods far in advance, essentially setting a fixed cost to their food supplies for a longer time. This offers a chance for businesses to take future inflationary price increases out of the equation.The benefits also open up more time for restaurants to focus untapped resources on operations, marketing, and sales. Knowing the costs in advance help restaurants construct a thorough long-term business plan without having to account for the expensive variables that come with inflation, waste, and labor costs.
Another added benefit of food being vacuum-sealed is lowering the risk of cross-contamination.
Foods can be kept sealed for longer and prepared in smaller quantities. Traditional food storage involves the risk of waste and decay, problems that are unassociated with sous vide. If a chef doesn’t use his vegetables, they eventually expire. Sous vide avoids this problem by offering an extraordinary shelf life. Not only does this reduce food waste, but in addition, the vacuum seal decreases the number of steps in the cooking process, lowering the chances of foodborne illnesses along the way. With traditional grilling, frying, or baking of meat or poultry, it is estimated that up 25 percent of the weight is lost during the cooking process. If a chef wants to serve a 6-ounce cut of meat, they may need to start with an 8-ounce piece. During standard freezing and packing methods, meats, for example, can lose up 10 percent of their weight upon being thawed. Yet, sous vide dishes can be frozen after being vacuum-sealed and cooked, and no water weight is added or lost during the freezing or thawing process. Buying traditional frozen ingredients can result in paying for raw ingredients by weight, only for those ingredients to lose water weight as they thaw.
In summary, the benefits of using sous vide products in a commercial kitchen are vast. Sous vide can decrease food waste, increase storage time, aid in food safety, and reduce ingredient costs while decreasing labor and inflationary costs. By avoiding variables in business costs and operations, sous vide cuts down restaurant expenses significantly and provide a layer of immunity against inflation.
Sean Wheaton joined Cuisine Solutions in 2018 as culinary business development manager. He was named vice president of culinary in 2020, where he currently heads operations. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, now known as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Art, Wheaton honed his skills in numerous fine dining restaurants in San Diego. In 2004, relocated to Washington, DC accepting a position as sous chef at Equinox working for Todd Gray. Equinox was nominated for a James Beard award all three years of his tenure at the restaurant. Chef Wheaton freelanced for multiple catering companies, including the original incarnation of José Andrés Catering, working with Chef Katsuya Fukushima. During his 10-year stint with José Andrés’ Think Food Group he spearheaded many noteworthy off-site events at venues such as the White House, the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the US Capitol. He served on the development team working on openings for several of ThinkFoodGroup’s full service restaurant projects including Mi Casa at the Dorado Beach, a Ritz Carlton Reserve in Puerto Rico; Bazaar Meat and Ku noodle at the SLS Hotel in Las Vegas, as well as America Eats Tavern, China Chilcano, FISH, and Beefsteak in Washington, DC. He also collaborated on ThinkFoodLab. José Andrés’ fast casual incubator working on Esports Arena at the Luxor in Las Vegas, as well as the Levy partnership at Audi Field, DC United’s new soccer stadium.