Foodservice drives success at innovative, award-winning farm shop

Suffolk Food Hall invests in Rational SelfCookingCenter® whitefficiency® for consistency, quality and ease of use

The Suffolk Food Hall shows just how far the concept of the farm shop can be taken – and how successful it can be.  A regular award winner, including the Best Local Food in UK & Ireland 2011, the site opened in 2007 to be a showcase of local produce.  Suffolk Food Hall now houses a farm shop, garden centre, traditional butchers, artisan baker, fine wine merchant, fishmonger, deli, cafe and restaurant.

“We always saw foodservice as an important part of the business – but it has far surpassed our expectations,” says director Oliver Paul.  “Total business turnover is rising significantly and foodservice accounts for over 35% of it, and that percentage is increasing.” 

Now the business has invested in a new building complex to house artisan kitchens, function rooms, a cookery school, offices and – on the first floor – its Cookhouse restaurant.  At the heart of the new restaurant’s kitchen is a 10-grid Rational SelfCookingCenter whitefficiency combi steamer.

The Suffolk Food Hall is situated in stunning scenery and the restaurant has panoramic views over the Orwell Estuary and its bridge, which is well over a kilometre long.   The new Cookhouse building has been designed as a flexible space, which can be used for a variety of purposes – including private dining, receptions and educational visits.

Head chef Mark Knowles was formerly at Wembley Stadium, so when the new kitchen was being specified he knew exactly what he wanted.  “Once you’ve worked with a Rational you don’t want anything less.  The old kitchen had another combi steamer that was always breaking down and the owners had been put off them altogether. But I persuaded them.”

The restaurant style is modern bistro/brasserie.  “We sell a lot of meat – especially beef, much of which comes from our own herd of Red Poll, the native Suffolk breed,” says Mark Knowles.  “Having a butcher on site is wonderful, the quality is fantastic and he gives us some unusual cuts – for example, we recently had feather blade of beef, which we slow-cooked in the Rational for five hours.  It came out beautifully succulent.”

The ten chefs in the kitchen need to be able to cope with high demand.  The restaurant has 135 covers and the building can accommodate up to 220.  Just after opening it was already serving up to 70 breakfasts and 150 lunches.  On Fridays and Saturdays it’s open for dinner, too.  Then there’s event catering and supplying some of the dishes for the smaller cafe, at the other end of the site.  Plus, the Rational prepares products for the retail side of the operation, such as cooked meats and pies for the delicatessen, marketed under the business’s ‘Chef’s Own’ brand.

“The SelfCookingCenter whitefficiency is in use throughout the day,” says Mark Knowles.  “There’s no other piece of cooking equipment that’s so versatile.  We use it for roasts, Yorkshire pudding, fishcakes, onion tart, desserts… you name it.  Over 50% of our food goes through the Rational combi, both for mis en place and for service.  For example, we’ll finish portions of vegetables in it just before serving, and we now cook our two popular desserts, chocolate tart and peach tatin, to order – they only take a few minutes.

“We use Rational’s new Efficient LevelControl feature for breakfast – it means we can cook everything at the same time, in the combi.  Bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms even fried eggs.  It can do the whole lot in as little as six minutes.”

The Rational is also used to cook the ‘Chef’s Own’ sausage rolls that are sold in the delicatessen.  “They are a classic example of a food that needs to be consistent, to satisfy the customer.  With the new Rational they all come out perfectly brown, crisp and succulent, from top shelf to bottom.”  This consistency is thanks to Rational’s HiDensityControl, which channels the heat and humidity to exactly where it is needed, throughout the cooking cabinet.

“It’s great to be able to have complete confidence in the equipment.” says Mark Knowles.  “For example, the other day we cooked turkey breasts using the combi’s temperature probe – so the Rational did everything automatically.  They were perfect.

“Cleaning is easy, too.  It tells you when it needs doing – then you just put in the cleaning tablets and push the ‘go’ button.  Job done.”

Oliver Paul says that, from a business point of view, the Rational delivers an ideal solution.  “We’ve got a great team and a wonderful location, but we have to get the offering right.  Customers want consistency – we’ve built a reputation for quality food, with local provenance.  Our equipment needs to deliver consistent quality, without hassle and in a seamless fashion.  The Rational does that.

“At the same time, the sophistication of the machine gives us more capacity.  Because it can do so many operations automatically, our chefs can get on with other things.  We have strong demand for food and as a business we need to maximise that.  Having equipment like the SelfCookingCenter whitefficiency means we can get the most out of our resources.”

Visit to get an idea of what the SelfCookingCenter whitefficiency is asked to deliver.

For further information and brochures, or to arrange to come to a free SelfCookingCenter® whitefficiency® ‘Rational CookingLive’ seminar, contact your dealer, freephone Rational UK on 0800 389 2944 or see Visit the iPhone store for the Rational SCC Expert App.