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THE Quarterly Product Knowledge Guide:  Refrigerated Chefs Bases
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Refrigerated chefs bases hold cooking equipment, such as grills, griddles or ranges on top, while providing refrigerated storage below for ingredients.

These units are most often used to store burgers, chicken and steak for short periods prior to cooking on the griddle or grill atop the base. Refrigerated chefs bases are not recommended for long-term storage; rather, these are designated for cold storage of immediate use products on the cook line.

Generally, refrigerated chefs bases are categorized by length. Kitchens vary in terms of the amount of cooking equipment that sits on top, so manufacturers offer multiple sizes that accommodate various formats. Still, all have basically the same configuration, and the height is critical for these cook stations. While the bases are about 21 inches, with griddles or charbroilers on top, the total height is about 32 inches. Depths range from 32 to 34 inches front to back and widths are 24, 36, 48 or 60 inches, depending on the cooking equipment used above.

Typically, chefs bases have all-stainless-steel fronts, tops and sides with a matching aluminum finished back.

These units consist of 6-inch legs or 6-inch seismic legs and a heavy duty, 16-gauge stainless steel top. The standard is a marine edge or a raised angled edge around the top of the unit that helps keep cooking equipment from sliding off the top. The flat top is used if the leg of the cooking equipment requires an area around the border of the top to sit on. Back splashes or guards can be bolted to the unit’s back or sides.

A digital controller or display is the preferred way of measuring this equipment’s interior temperatures. Refrigerated chefs bases are rated NSF-7 for open food.

There are not many options for this equipment, other than alternative drawer configurations to hold different pan sizes.

It’s important to note that the cooking equipment sitting on top of these bases must have 4-inch legs installed. If the appropriate clearance is not provided, the heat from the equipment above could melt the foam on the top of the unit and affect temperatures inside.

 Purchasing Considerations

When purchasing a refrigerated chefs base operators need to weigh a variety of factors, according to Edward Arons, senior associate, Colburn & Guyette, a foodservice design and consulting company in Rockland, Mass. These include:

Environment: Chefs bases can differ in durability, so consider if the operation requires something heavy duty or standard. Think of the environment: is it high volume and fast paced with many kitchen staff? This may constitute a heavy-duty model. For a small operation with limited hours and staff, a standard duty base may work. Next is the length required. How much product will be held? Will this unit be under a counter, built-in or require a work top? The number of equipment pieces on top will drive how long the base needs to be.

Top Edge: Chefs bases typically come with a flat edge or marine edge. If spills and drips are expected, then a marine edge might be the right choice. Those tight on space should consider the flat edge, which makes the best use of the top. Determine all of the equipment dimensions and look at the equipment leg configurations to allow for enough flat surface on top.

Ventilation: Like all refrigerators, these units will exhaust warm air, and this needs to be taken into account. Ensure that the air flow around the base location will be enough per the manufacturer’s recommendations and that the compressor is accessible for cleaning and maintenance. A feature offered by some manufacturers is a self-cleaning condenser device that will brush the condenser daily and keep it clean. This should add to a longer life for the chefs base, since it will be preventing any build-up on the compressor housing. If air movement or clearance may be an issue, another option is to remote the compressor in another location.

Weight Limit: It’s easy to overlook how much the chefs base can hold. Lightweight items don’t require a heavy duty base, but heavier items will need a unit with a higher weight limit. Also consider the unit’s construction, how it’s framed and the gauge of stainless steel.

Number of Drawers: The more drawers, the easier to organize food types. Separate drawers minimizes flavor transfer between different items.

Legs or Casters: Is a mobile base needed for ease of cleaning? If using high heat cooking equipment or hot liquids on the base, then non-mobile with legs may be a better option. If the unit is mobile, flexible gas hoses with a quick disconnect or longer electrical cords will be needed.

Cleaning & Maintenance

The refrigerated chefs base helps provide convenient access to key ingredients on the cook line. In addition to storing ingredients, these units’ construction helps provide sturdy, durable surfaces for fryers, grills and cooktop ranges.

When cleaning and maintaining this equipment, operators should keep a number of things in mind. “Poor ventilation will cause the refrigerator to not reject heat into the ambient,” says George Loredo, service manager, San Antonio and Austin branches, ProTex Restaurant Services Inc., Corpus Christi, Texas. “The higher operating conditions will force the compressor to work excessively to maintain desired cabinet temperature.” This can compromise the unit’s service life.

For the refrigeration process to be effective, a closed space is necessary to cool the product. “That idea is very difficult to realize with a chef’s base refrigerator,” says Loredo. “Due to its very important role on the cooking line holding key prepared food items, the drawers are opened numerous times throughout the day.”

Door gaskets that do not seal properly compromise the refrigerated space. Operators should regularly inspect gaskets, checking for gaps as well as torn or missing sections. “Cleaning them often will keep them looking sanitary,” says Loredo. “Occasionally, the drawer slides may be preventing the gaskets from sealing properly.” Operators should inspect the drawer slides to ensure drawers close well, as these can get damaged by overloading or abuse.

Loredo also recommends ensuring a minimum clearance of 6 inches from the back of the refrigerator to the wall. Operators also should inspect the front louvre, which should remain free from airflow obstructions. This needs to be kept clean and the condenser coil should be cleaned by a professional.

Operators should remove any pans, rags, product wrapping, etc. that fall and accumulate behind the refrigerator that may restrict airflow. “Occasionally, remove the drawers and inspect the interior fan areas and confiscate paper, plastic wrappings and other debris that has been drawn into the fans,” says Loredo. “While the drawers are out, verify the fans are turning and that there is no excessive ice buildup that may be causing the refrigerator to not maintain proper temperature.”

Clean the condenser coil per the manufacturer’s operator´s manual if the condenser fins appear blocked. If the condenser coil has accumulated heavy grease, a commercial condenser coil chemical may be necessary. Caring for the base’s stainless-steel surface will prevent minor surface rust, pitting and localized corrosion that will affect its sanitary appearance. “Do not allow water to pool on the surfaces, whether on the tops or on the interior areas,” says Loredo. “Any moisture acidic in nature will enable corrosion.”

Stainless steel surfaces should be cleaned using mild, soapy water, followed by a stainless steel cleaner to prevent surface corrosion. “Do not use scrapers, abrasive cloths or chemicals, acidic or chlorine-based cleaners or solvents that may accelerate corrosion by pitting the surface,” says Loredo.

Seek out a refrigeration professional for annual cleanings and checks.

Loredo recommends the following yearly maintenance protocol:

  • Thoroughly clean the condenser coil
  • Wipe down the condenser fan
  • Clean the inside coil and wipe down the fan blades
  • Flush the drain pans and pipes with water

Also, check the refrigeration system and fan motors. Check the compressor electrical system for excessive noise or vibration.

“Lastly, manufacturers offer use and care manuals online with illustrated explanations of key components,” says Loredo. “They explain limitations of design for loading product and limitations for placing equipment on top. They also include requirements for ambient conditions and offer basic cleaning tips.”

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