Sous vide, the French vacuum-sealed cooking technique, is increasingly becoming a preferred method for restaurant cooking. Managers have begun to recognize not only its inherent benefits such as food quality and taste, but also the method’s ability to reduce waste, lower labor costs, saving innumerable hours of prep time for chefs.
Sous vide involves vacuum sealing food into food-grade plastic, then submerging into water and cooking the food using precise times and temperatures. The benefits of sous vide are immediately apparent to anyone who’s tried it. The flavor, texture, color and consistency of the food are all enhanced dramatically. This food-science technique is commonly hailed as the ultimate cooking method by restaurant-goers and chefs alike.
The benefits of sous vide have been understood by industry leaders for some time. Recently, more restaurant executive chefs and managers have turned to sous vide not just to enhance meal quality, but also to resolve some of the job shortage and restructuring issues posed by the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, managers saw widespread staff shortages worldwide both in the restaurant sector and the global job market. To a degree, this trend was to be expected as the result of restaurant closures and restrictions. What managers didn’t anticipate was how long it would take for staff numbers to rebound after the world opened up again. Once restrictions were lifted, managers figured new employees would be rushing to fill the vacuum. That didn’t happen. Instead, there was only a minor influx of new employees while total staff numbers lagged.
Without sufficient staffing, restaurants have struggled to efficiently manage their kitchens. Some restaurants closed their doors temporarily as they waited for the pandemic to pass, while others have survived by cutting costs and remodeling their business structures. Sous vide has been able to alleviate some of the pressures on restaurant management instigated by the pandemic in a variety of ways. First, sous vide requires less prep time than traditional meals. This allows managers to free up staff for other tasks in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor. To save even more time, restaurants now have the option of purchasing prepared sous vide food products—especially proteins—from trusted sellers, essentially outsourcing a large portion of prep work. The time-saving element of sous vide can be monumental for understaffed restaurants.
Second, sous vide requires less labor. Although the technique is advanced and comes with a learning curve, it has been modernized in a way that has been simplified over the years. Any chef, with proper training, will find that sous vide is a quick, efficient way to cook quality food without extraneous steps or procedures involved. The technique breaks down overcomplicated systems in the kitchen and provides an easy way to cook exceptional food with half the work. However, it’s important that chefs cooking their own sous vide in kitchens are trained on safety protocols and implement an HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). Luckily, there are a variety of classes and certification programs that are geared towards making sous vide experts out of any chefs.
Finally, sous vide reduces waste to a marked degree. Specifically, the technique drastically minimizes food waste as when you cook with sous vide you are at least doubling the shelf life of the product, saving waste by 20–30 percent. When you use the method, you also save 15–20 percent of the natural juices, so there’s no need to buy excess product to make up for juices lost from traditional cooking. If restaurants choose to use pre-packaged fully cooked and pasteurized sous-vide solutions, then the waste is reduced even more. Therefore, a restaurant or hotel that has to serve a banquet hall for 1000 guests, can react easily to a change in attendance as the sous vide products take minutes to be reheated. Restaurant chefs working with prepared sous vide products enjoy less waste in regard to the yield of the final product. This reduction of waste can translate to meaningful savings both financially and during working hours.
The kitchen can be a hectic environment, with line cooks and chefs scrambling to satisfy tickets and servers dashing to and from the dining area. Amid all the chaos, being able to give more time back to staff and chefs can help improve kitchen costs and operations and produce more efficient workflows. By replacing traditional cooking methods with sous vide, restaurants will enable their kitchens to focus on creativity and the guest experience while assuredly producing consistently excellent finished dishes for their patrons. Sous vide also allows for dishes to be served 50 percent faster to diners, allowing for customers to spend less time at the tables and restaurants to turn over tables faster, resulting in more revenue.
Gerard Bertholon is Chief Strategy Officer of Cuisine Solutions, where his team continue to leverage the method to help companies—from national restaurant chains to large hotel chains and airlines, and numerous other industries—save money, reduce waste, and help with the shortage of skilled labor. He previously trained in France with three-starred Michelin chefs Alain Chapel and Louis Outhier. Prior to joining Cuisine Solutions, Bertholon served as Executive Chef in top French restaurants, and in 2012 he was named Maître Cuisinier de France. In 2013, Bertholon was named Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole by the French Ministry of Agriculture and was inducted into the Académie Culinaire de France in 2015. This year he was Awarded “Le Fauteuil de Académie Culinaire de France” Lifetime Achievement Award.