If people eat with their eyes, as the saying goes, then diners at Rivers Casino’s Canopy buffet will be filled to the brim by the action in the pastry display at the entrance. Guests can help themselves to seasonal cookies, cakes, and desserts or be served gelato and ice cream by staff, all made fresh in the casino’s display pastry kitchen on the opposite side of the serving line.
“The colorful desserts are among the first things customers see when they walk into the buffet. We often overhear people saying, ‘I’ll just start here with dessert,’” says Executive Pastry Chef Bernardo Silva, the mind behind the 30 to 40 different sweet indulgences served daily at the Des Plaines, Illinois, casino.
Since its 2011 opening, Canopy has become the foodservice ace in the hole of the $445-million Rivers Casino dining outlets, averaging more than 1,000 buffet covers daily. The casino’s buffet area, support kitchen, and pastry kitchen were designed by Beth Kuczera of Chicago-based Equipment Dynamics in conjunction with F&B Consultant Gary Leff of Laredo Ventures in Chicago.
“Rivers’ pastry kitchen is unique in that it supports the entire casino—from buffet and coffee shop to VIP dining, events, banquets, and team member dining—all while being on display along the buffet line,” notes F&B Director William McIlroy. “It’s a separate entity that works independently while still being a key design element of the buffet.”
Pastry Kitchen Tour
Designers placed the pastry kitchen directly behind the dessert station, giving visitors full view of non-stop pastry production. The 1,120- square-foot area supplies all desserts for the 280-seat Canopy buffet and other outlets.
The display cases and gelato station take up about 200 square feet along the front. Guests can see straight back into the kitchen, where baking equipment is positioned around three walls. The 500-square-foot production space includes a full-sized single-rack rotating oven, stand mixers, a double convection oven, candy range, gelato/ice cream maker, and freezer.
Thanks to small-batch production operations, the ovens are in near-constant use. “Pastries and cookies are made as last-minute as possible to ensure freshness,” Silva says. “We go through so many cookies that we’re baking throughout the day.”
Three work tables, including a front-andcenter, marble-topped table, made of the same distinctive pale gray, striated marble used throughout Canopy, offer a clear view of pastry works-in-progress.
“When it comes to plating and decoration— the colorful work—staff members are at the work tables facing the restaurant,” Silva says. “We’re on stage all the time, and we love it.”
The pot-washing area is located off to the side, along the passageway leading to the coffee shop. Keeping the kitchen clean despite the constant activity is accomplished by assigning one team member to take charge of washing and resupplying bowls, plates, etc., as needed. Walk-in coolers and dry storage—the 320 square feet of space filled to the brim with loaded carts and shelves—are positioned behind the back wall of the pot-washing station.
While the pastry kitchen offers anywhere from 30 to 40 items daily, there are a few proven winners that repeat guests rely on. “Our number one spot is tied between the crème brûlée and gelato, followed by cheesecake lollipops, tiramisu, and chocolate desserts,” Silva says.
“The servings are small—cookies are about two inches, and most preplated items can be eaten in two to three bites. We want people to enjoy many different desserts,” Silva says. Customers usually sample about five desserts per person, which tallies up to around 5,000 portions daily.
Tight kitchen space plus high quality standards “force us to be tight on production levels,” McIlroy says. “We’re limited on storage and refrigeration, so we’re placing food orders daily with our purveyors.”
Managing pastry and buffet production gets a considerable boost from three interconnected software programs: one that tracks production, one for purchasing, and another for tracking and analysis.
On busier days—Wednesdays through Saturdays—staffing includes up to two team members working the serving line to scoop gelato and plate desserts, plus eight to 10 team members doing production work in the pastry kitchen. On slower days, kitchen workers will cover both positions.
A typical day in the Rivers pastry kitchen starts at 4 a.m. with the arrival of the baker, who makes pastries, Danish, croissants, and sticky buns for the buffet and the adjacent Coffee Spot. At 7 a.m., the rest of the team arrives for the first shift. Second shift begins at 4 p.m. and runs through 12:30 a.m. Deep cleaning takes place from approximately 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.
A Look Ahead
While footprint constraints limit Silva’s hopes for more and bigger ovens, the Rivers pastry kitchen will continue to add to its equipment roster. Currently slated for installation are a rotating chestnut roaster and a chocolate tempering machine.
For 2013, the team will be adding a cookie-cutting machine and, along the Canopy buffet line, a tabletop automated doughnut maker and a crêpe station.
Janice Cha has covered the foodservice industry for more than a decade, focusing on kitchen equipment for several years.