Food & Drink

Eats & drinks: Combi ovens do it all

Zach Lorber discusses the capabilities of the Alto Shaam Combi ovens at the March ACF meeting.
Zach Lorber discusses the capabilities of the Alto Shaam Combi ovens at the March ACF meeting. Photo provided

Last month, a dozen chefs and sundry foodies met at Penn State Altoona’s Port Sky Cafe, parking in the visitor’s lot and crossing a stream over a footbridge in the center of the scenic campus.

Chapter President Zach Lorber was the host, and he was proud of his domain, and ready to show off a little for the members and friends of the Southern Alleghenies Chefs Association, a chapter of the American Culinary Federation.

Penn State corporate executive xhef Bill Laychur attended the meeting and was as proud of the state-of-the-art kitchen and food service area in the cafe as Lorber. He designed it all and was pleased to see the area busy with hungry students as well as the gaping guests who appreciated the back-of-the-house tour. Responsible for training and development of the culinary staff at all the university’s food service locations, Laychur has a big job and consults in all areas of food service within Auxiliary and Business Services. But he is the type of attentive overseer who tidies up an area as he sweeps through it, eyes on the next station and on what might be out of order.

The program was a show and tell for the Alto Shaam Combi Ovens, a combination convection and steam oven that makes a Vulcan commercial range seem like an old-fashioned camp cookstove. Listening to what the ovens can do — steaming, convection cooking and smoking at the touch of a screen — before you program them for self-cleaning, the chefs eyed them with envy. Chef Jeremiah Dick, of the culinary program at State College Area High School, was particularly interested, as the renovation plans underway at the school call for an upgrade to combi ovens.

It is what our students will encounter in state of the art commercial kitchens, so we had better teach them how to use them.

Chef Jeremiah Dick, State College Area High School

“It’s definitely the way of the future. It is what our students will encounter in state of the art commercial kitchens, so we had better teach them how to use them,” said Dick, who is debating the merits of the Alto Shaam versus the Rational brand. Laychur, familiar with both models, gave his recommendation.

But not everyone was in the market for a $12,000 to $20,000 piece of new equipment, even if star chef Daniel Boulud and Food & Wine Magazine endorse them wholeheartedly. There are actually home models being produced now that may revolutionize the way we cook at home — but not in the immediate future. Attendees were also treated to a presentation by Lorber about the cuisine of Korea and the complex and fiery flavors associated with Korean food.

After sharing some info about Korea, Lorber passed around some representative ingredients and then treated the attendees to a tantalizing buffet of Korean dishes that soon had everyone’s taste buds tingling. Smoked and braised Gochujang (Brined Pork Belly), Bulgogi Duck Breast, Steamed Buns, Bi Bim Bop, Kim Chee and Marinated Vegetables Banchan were some of the fiery treats that were sampled — and had some tasters gasping for water.

The next meeting of the Southern Alleghenies chapter of the American Culinary Federation will take place at 7 p.m. April 11 at the Nittany Lion Inn’s Assembly Room. The topic is local foods and the presenters will be from the Friends & Farmers Cooperative. Area chefs and local foodies are welcome to come; there is no need to be a member of the ACF. For more information, contact Zach Lorber at zachlorber@yahoo.com or at southernalleghenychefs@gmail.com. You can also check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs or follow them on Instagram @acfsaca or Twitter @acfsaca.

Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (”Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at chefcorr@gmail.com.

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