Inside and Outside the Kitchen – Catering Crockery for Service and Cookery
There are two basic types of home crockery – that which is used only in food service (plates; bowls; gravy jugs) and that which is directly used in the cooking process. The former group is, in the professional kitchen, much the larger, because most cooking is done in stainless steel pots and pans. However, there are some specific instances in which food must be cooked and served in the same dish: and it is these instances with which we begin our exploration. Individual portions of pie and lasagne are probably the most commonly used items of “cook to plate” catering crockery. As such, they have a few extra design requirements, which may not be present in the creation of serving crockery alone. Chiefly, an item of crockery used to cook as well as to present an item, must be able to withstand the great heat present in professional ovens. It must do so without cracking or burning; and without “taking” – that is, allowing the caramelised edges of something hot to become welded to it in a way that makes it very hard to clean. Clearly, the harder a catering item is to clean the less hygienic it is – and therefore the less practical it is for either cooking or service. This is one of the main reasons why stainless steel is used so extensively in catering. Cook to table crockery is also used in puddings – more so, often, than with savoury courses. Crumble and pie dishes both have the same design requirements as those used for savoury pies. Some extremely specific items of catering crockery may also be used as cook to table service options: for instance, a snail tray, which is used to both bake and serve the snails. In some restaurants, a small chimenea may also be used to cook food directly at table: the same is true for hot earthenware used for serving dishes in some Mexican restaurants. Service only catering crockery is essentially defined as anything that has not been used to cook as well as deliver the food. Some food is finished in an oven after dressing – such as dishes that need to be caramelised or to have cheese melted and browned – but these don’t count as cook to table dishes unless they have been cooked from the start in the thing they end up on the table inside. Service only catering crockery may also be defined as the items that are used to present accessories: the butter dish; the gravy jug; and the dish used to present vegetables for sharing at a Sunday roast. In all cases, it shares some specific design cues: the ability to take on and retain a gentle level of heat, which helps to keep the food warm; the ability to clean easily and repeatedly without losing its finish or its shine; and the ability to show up when it is dirty. This is why so much crockery in a professional service system is white: because this way you can tell at a glance if it needs to be washed.