New ovens save time, make better food

Published 10:56 am Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cafeteria worker Salina Smith unloads a tray of fries from one of the new combi-ovens at S.P. Morton Elementary School. -- CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

Cafeteria worker Salina Smith unloads a tray of fries from one of the new combi-ovens at S.P. Morton Elementary School. — CAIN MADDEN | TIDEWATER NEWS

FRANKLIN—The Franklin City Public Schools are more efficient in the kitchens.

And the children seem happier, including third-grader J.J. Turner, 9.

“It is good because it tastes juicy,” said Turner of his favorite, the chicken sandwich. “It is good and yummy.”

The meat in the cafeteria is more moist of late because of the new ovens that have been installed in all three schools, two in S.P. Morton, and one each in J.P. King and Franklin High School.

The utilities are called combi-ovens, which is a combination of a smoker and a traditional oven. Smoking allows moisture to seep inside the meat, while the oven itself is baking the outside, said Lawrence Whiting, supervisor of pupil support services.

“Think about a thick steak,” Whiting said. “In a regular oven, it’s got a thick black crust on the outside, but it isn’t done on the inside when you pull it out. But if we were to cook a steak in a combi-oven, it allows the steam to get inside and it cooks more uniformly. The meat comes out tender and juicy.”

The ovens are also more efficient, said S.P. Morton Cafeteria Manager Portia Robertson.

“We’re getting a lot more done, and the clean-up time is minimal,” she said. “We are able to do batch cooking, which lets us get out more at a time, and that also makes the food hotter when the kids get it.

It was hectic before, this was long overdue.”

Calvin Sing, who works in the math remediation computer lab, also said they have been needed for a long time.

“The lines are moving a lot faster,” he said. “We’ve been able to get the children back to class easier.”

This efficiency has enabled them to pull out the fryers, at least at S.P. Morton, said Whiting.

“That’s of course a good thing for the children because they are not getting as many calories, or as much trans-fat, which isn’t good for you,” he said.

Robertson said she was glad to be rid of the fryers.

“The food is a lot healthier,” she said. “And it’s not greasy, there’s things in there that aren’t good for you.”

Sing added that he’s enjoyed the non-fried french fries, which he said are more crispy and not greasy.

The old ovens had served generations of children, as they were 40 years old, Whiting said.

“They needed replacing,” he said. “We had seen combi-ovens at food shows, so we’d been looking to get some. As soon as the money became available, we were glad to get them. And we got the money from the city, so I’d like to thank them.”

The combi-ovens cost $15,000 a piece, but they are worth it, Whiting said.

“We’re able to get out a lot of food at a time, and without a lot of grease,” he said. “They have done a great job for us.”

At the end of the day, only one thing matters about the cafeteria to third-grader Malachi Murphy. Is the food good?

“I like a lot of the meats,” he said. “It’s pretty delicious. But my favorite thing is probably the green beans.”