A makeover for the MTCC

Richard Willett dishes on the recent $6-million renovations at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

By Leslie Wu

TORONTO—When Richard Willett, vice-president of
food and beverage at the Metro Convention Centre (MTCC), started
researching the institution’s recently completed $6-million kitchen
renovation, he got up to his elbows in suds.

“I spent two days
in the pit washing dishes. Staff who didn’t know who I was were telling
me, ‘you’re not very fast at this’,” he laughed.

Richard Willett, vice-president of food and beverage at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Richard Willett, vice-president of food and beverage at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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From
ergonomics to labour efficiencies, Willett’s team and consulting firm
William Caruso & Associates redesigned the MTCC’s entire
14,000-square-foot kitchen space. Headed by executive chef Angelo
Fernandes, a 49-person kitchen staff puts out an estimated 750,000
covers every year, said Willett. On any given day, there are up to
18,000 meals being served in the convention centre.

New
executive pastry chef Mia De Ala was hired to oversee the expanded
2,000-square-foot pastry area. “We want to make it a real selling point,
so we doubled the size of the section to accommodate more in-house
baked goods,” said Willett.

The team also made considerable
changes to the garde manger area to improve temperature control and flow
of raw materials into the kitchen.
Soup kettles from Cleveland
Range were incorporated into the improved ergonomic plan with automatic
stir and pour features. Newly installed blast chillers meant that the
staff didn’t have to cool hot liquids in ice baths as they were
previously doing.

Eleven Rational combi-ovens, eight on the
north side and three in the south building, were brought in, which added
braising and self-cleaning options to the kitchen, said Willett. It
also allowed for more kosher events, since the ovens were given the
stamp of approval from rabbis in Germany.

Changes in the
dishwashing area included adding a Hobart system that gives staff the
ability to adjust water temperature, and also installing a pressurized
pot washer. Willett estimated that the labour savings in dishwashing
alone translated to the equivalent of a full-time person based on
year-round service.

To accommodate party planner meetings, a
conference room with a glass wall and completely wired kitchen for
audio-visual viewing allows visitors to watch desserts or other items
being made at different points throughout the kitchen. The chilled to
cellar temperature setting of the room also keeps wine storage off
valuable floor space.

For the more than 400 front of house
staff, the biggest change in incorporating the redesign was the move
from French to plated service, which meant a month-long retraining
process. The kitchen is now up to 1,000 plates per hour from the 550
they were accomplishing before the redesign.

“The nice thing
about the change is that our ability to zero in on the individual has
increased tenfold,” said Willett, noting that the kitchen can now be
responsible for vegan, vegetarian, allergy conscious and other dietary
restrictions rather than placing the onus on the server.

Overall,
Willett estimated that the labour savings and reduced payroll in the
front of house since the kitchen’s soft open in September is about 10
per cent.

“The technology we’ve introduced allows us to work at alternative times and improve workflow,” he said.