Some think, “No kitchen exhaust = no cooking = no restaurant… or so most of us used to think.” Indeed, there was a time that the idea of creating a real menu from a kitchen without hoods would have seemed nearly impossible. Enter the ventless kitchen – something becoming more and more frequent. Traditional kitchens with hoods over the equipment to pull smoke, particulates and smells off the cooking surface and remove them from the premises with exhaust systems are not always a possibility. Now, with certain equipment coupled with a ventless hood, which cleans the air and removes smells and fumes but doesn’t require venting, the possibility is created to put kitchens in places that, until now, could not have had such. (Note that ventless exhaust systems cannot be paired with gas-fired kitchen equipment.)
Such circumstances can include prohibitive installation issues at a location, financial limitations (not enough money in the budget) or deliberate choices to keep a kitchen’s footprint small and simple. Additionally, with the innovative equipment solutions that now abound, it’s possible to produce a robust menu without having to install a total exhaust system. To name just a few of these innovations:
- Ventless fryers
- Microwave-convection technology
- Combi Ovens
- Panini grills and other hinged heating units
- Portable vents that can be placed on the counter behind smaller pieces of equipment such as panini grills and toasters
- Induction burners and pans
- Convection and pizza ovens
- Sous vide devices
- Assorted ware washing equipment
- Cook and hold carts
Though not an inclusive list, one can begin to see how menu creation can be rather easily accomplished in a hoodless kitchen. Now, let’s look at some realistic considerations before deciding to go ventless:
• Given that some appropriate equipment is expensive, do a budget analysis of the accumulative costs versus installing type 1 or type 2 hoods. Assuming the location could allow for venting, it may be wash financially.
• Consider the olfactory implications: though a true exhaust hood is not required for the types of equipment noted above, odors will invariably result. I recently had dinner at a wine bar that has a ventless kitchen, and I left smelling like burned toast and grease. As spills occurred in the oven, the vapors escaped and filled the dining room.
• Develop the menu so that items that will likely throw off unpleasant vapors are not included. Items with considerable fat, if not contained while cooking, can create quite a negative olfactory sensation.
• Consider a non-open kitchen design. Having a ventless exhaust hood is better than nothing, and it will do a decent job at filtering the kitchen air to keep it fresh and safe. Still, containing inevitable aromas in a closed space prevents a negative dining room experience.
In the end, it is a great breakthrough for our industry that, with rising utility, construction and rent costs, ventless kitchens can be created without limiting operators into serving nothing but cold foods. Still, if considering a kitchen without ventilation, simply do the math and, if venting is an option, be sure opting out pays off.