Jillian Tedesco—chef, fitness trainer and author—began Fit Flavors from her home, building the business over the next ten years into a successful resource for healthy meals in the St Louis area. “It was a way I could combine my talents and really help my fitness clients eat better in the kitchen.”
Today, Fit Flavors operates five storefront locations and one commissary. The Fit Flavors team of trainers, chefs and dieticians cook a full menu of meals to order for later pick up or delivery. Customers can also walk in and purchase ready-made meals from a more limited menu.
Portions are cooked and packaged at the central commissary and delivered to the stores for final assembly. The menu is wide ranging and packed with fresh, healthy selections like a lean protein-loaded buffalo turkey burger, anti-biotic-free herb-grilled chicken and basmati rice, and Caribbean pineapple slaw.
Cooking healthy meals from fresh ingredients was time consuming and kitchen space was limited. With a focus on good food pre-made for delivery or pick-up, orders often exceeded capacity during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Even before then, we were looking at more efficient ways to cook variety in volume,” said Fit Flavors Executive Chef, Warren Hamilton.
They couldn’t keep up. Braised shredded beef, for example, might take most of a day. Chicken breasts meant someone flipping them individually on a flattop grill. “We averaged seven or eight hours of shuffling things in and out of our regular old ovens. What we needed was a way to achieve the desired outcome in less time without using unhealthy ingredients or cooking methods.”
That search led Fit Flavors to Hess Meat Machines, a St. Louis-based commercial foodservice equipment company and exclusive distributor for Henny Penny FlexFusion combi ovens.
“We took a close look at their systems and processes and understood the challenges they faced,” said Rachel Herren, president of Hess Meat Machines. In turn, Fit Flavors culinary team tested recipes in Hess’s demo kitchen. The result was a new approach to cooking meal components that had an enormous impact on efficiency and throughput.
With the new Henny Penny combi ovens, Fit Flavors was able to cut cooking times in half across the board. “Anything we cook in the combi, regardless of which cooking mode or setting, is done in half the time.” said Chef Warren. “Suddenly an eight-hour task is done in four hours. This has been crucial for the flow of our daily production.”
According to Chef Warren, technology and ease of use are what sets the Henny Penny combis apart. “The different modes and settings allow us to adjust conditions on the fly for the perfect cook on each item. Once we know exactly how we would like the finished product to look, we build a cooking program with a shortcut to the correct settings right there on the screen. The way this unit is setup makes it very user friendly and takes the chances for human error out of the equation.”
60 to 70 percent of the menu is prepared with four Henny Penny combis configured in two stacked units. Chefs start baking in one stack at 5 a.m. In the other stack they might cook veggies and potatoes in the top oven and all chicken or overnight brisket in the lower one. Because of its versatility, almost any ingredients can be combined in the FlexFusion combi oven according to cooking method and cooking time with zero flavor transfer. Having separate ovens also allows greater production flexibility.
“Our job was to find Fit Flavors a better, more consistent way of doing things,” said Herren. “It’s not just about the combis. It’s about being partners in that success. We’re with them every step of the way on this.”
Hess customized on-site training for Fit Flavors kitchen staff and provides round-the-clock technical support. Most important, Hess had the combi-ovens Fit Flavors needed in stock for immediate installation. A second two-oven combi stack was ordered a month later and installed within 30 days. Fit Flavors has plans to expand its commissary in 2023 and add even more Henny Penny combi ovens.
In the end, it was about the food and the mission of Fit Flavors to be the first resource for healthy meals. “We can get a nice crisp fry on a chicken breast without having to fry it in oil,” said Chef Warren. “Really simplifying our ingredients is something we have always done but now we can go even further by simplifying the oils, the cooking process and the handling. Having the ability to serve food this consistent is what is taking our product to the next level.”
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