|By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 9, 2004 - BILOXI, Miss. -- There's a reason the gumbo is always good at Beau Rivage, the salad dressings at its many restaurants have the same consistency and the vegetables are crisp.
The casino resort has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a "cook and chill" food processing plant. The plant uses computer technology, specialized chilling tanks and cutting machines with 16 interchangeable blades that slice vegetables to 1/10,000th of an inch.
As a result, just about the only food product that comes from a can is tomato paste. Pre-cooked packages from food wholesalers are practically non-existent.
Beau Rivage converted basement warehouse space into the plant this summer. It became operational in August.
"We opened the cook and chill for three reasons," said George Goldhoff, vice president of food and beverage. "Food quality, economics -- you can save money through food costs and labor savings -- and also food safety. Most food is cooked at 160 degrees and stored at 40 degrees. Anything in between is considered the danger zone."
Some foods can be dropped from cooking temperatures to below the danger zone in as quickly as 20 minutes. The process also maintains food freshness without heavy preservatives.
"Take celery for an example," Goldhoff said. "You might have the right texture when it comes off the stove, but if it takes four to six hours to cool down, what happens to the celery or the carrots or the chicken? It changes."
Beau Rivage's award winning gumbo recipe, the creation of Kristian Wade, never changes in the preparation because the same person cooks 1,000 gallons every seven to 10 days.
Tuesday, chefs mixed Caesars dressing and marinara sauce in the big kettles. Jeffery Ausmer looked past a panel full of controls to a round monitor that used two colored pencils to draw a line graph.
"The blue line is the actual temperature of the pot," Ausmer said. "The red line is the temperatures of the actual ingredients in the pot."
A record is kept of every batch cooked.
Salads can be mixed at temperatures below 40 degrees, which prevents bacteria-born illnesses from contaminating food products. The technologies also lessen human contact with food during the preparation process.
Walk into the cutting room, and the smell of freshly squeezed oranges remind you of a South Florida fruit stand -- until the onions get you crying.
No need for knives, here. The peeled onions are thrown into a cutting machine.
"The bottleneck is how fast can the operators toss it in," said Andrew Smith, executive sous chef. "The bottleneck isn't the machines."
Beau Rivage can actually process 10,000 pounds of vegetables an hour. So every vegetable dish -- even the ones served on the buffet -- is fresh. You won't find any Green Giants lurking around on pantry shelves.
Although food products are processed in the cook and chill plant, signature dishes at the Beau's restaurants are still made to order by chefs.
The resort also makes its own coffee, beer, bread, pastries and seasoned meats.
"We are definitely unique in that concept," Goldhoff said. "It's a tribute to Andrew and his team and Joe Friel, the executive chef. It's really about the quality products we put in front of people. That's the basis of why we do this."
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