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Sous Vide Tools: how it all began

Sous Vide Tools: how it all began

by Great British Chefs 02 February 2018

Sous vide has cemented its place as a cooking technique that’s here to stay, but how did it rise to prominence? We talk to Sous Vide Tools’ managing director Alex Shannon about how and why he began selling sous vide equipment to the home cook.

We’ve come a long way from the days when sous vide cooking was the fiercely guarded secret of Michelin-starred chefs. Now we see it mentioned on food TV programmes, hear chefs wax lyrical about the benefits and even attend dinner parties where the host has prepared some of the food using it. But how did this shift in the way keen home cooks prepare food come to be?

Alex Shannon was one of the first people to bring sous vide equipment to the British public through his company Sous Vide Tools. Starting off by selling direct to chefs, it wasn’t long until he realised there was no real way for home cooks to get their hands on this high-tech kit. ‘I’d always been in the catering equipment industry and had a strong interest in food, but the first time I came across sous vide was in 2009 in Italy,’ he says. ‘I got a sample and soon realised how much interest and potential there was in these machines. So I took the plunge, started Sous Vide Tools and that was my first product.’

At first, Alex found it pretty tough to convince chefs to buy sous vide machines. While some already knew about it, those that didn’t really know how it worked were cautious. ‘Chefs get trained in classical techniques but not sous vide, so we needed to show them how much it could help them,’ explains Alex. ‘It wasn’t until Chris Holland joined the team as a consultant (now chef-director) that we started to realise how important it was to educate people on how to use sous vide equipment. Chris had been using sous vide for years beforehand, and when he started coming to demonstrations it really took off.’

Sous Vide Tools on the Foodtalk Podcast

Want to hear more about Sous Vide Tools and the UK's newfound love for sous vide cooking? Listen to Alex on the Foodtalk Podcast.

That was the industry side of things sorted, but what about home cooks? After meeting with the owners of Sous Vide Supreme – one of the original sous vide water ovens designed for home use – Alex realised he had been missing out on a potentially huge market. So nine months after starting the company, he started selling to the public. ‘Up until around two years ago about sixty-five percent of our trade was to professional chefs, but since then it’s completely switched the other way around,’ he says. ‘Now three-quarters of what we sell is to home cooks. I think that’s down to an increased awareness of the method, more and more chefs using it and people seeing it on programmes like MasterChef and Great British Menu. It used to only be used in fine dining restaurants, but now you see it in gastropubs and even places like Starbucks.’

Beyond sous vide

With sous vide equipment selling like never before and more and more home cooks using the technology in their own kitchens, Alex decided to branch out into other areas. But while things like the barbecues – including an incredible Yakitori grill of which only a few hundred are available in the UK – might look unrelated to the Sous Vide Tools name, they’re actually closely intertwined. ‘Everything else we sell on Sous Vide Tools is there as a sort of accessory to sous vide cooking,’ explains Alex. ‘Our barbecues, whether they be the ceramic ones or the yakitori grills, provide the ultimate way to finish off sous vide dishes. Then we’ve looked at other things like the smoking gun, which adds a nice smoked flavour either before or after you sous vide something. In the past year we’ve also started selling equipment we think will become a trend in the future – things like dehydrators, which you can get for around £100 now. We’ve been very lucky as there’s such an increased awareness in food and how we prepare and cook it, so there’s plenty of demand for lots of different products.' And with costs for this high-tech kitchen kit becoming more and more affordable, home cooks are getting their hands on fantastic new equipment all the time.

‘We normally come across new pieces of equipment through our chefs,’ adds Alex. ‘They might have travelled to the US or Scandinavia, come back and asked us to source something. Once we’ve got it, our development chefs can play with it and see whether we should start getting more in.’

Getting in new equipment to sell is all well and good, but how do Alex and the team know it’s going to sell? ‘It’s the community we’ve built around Sous Vide Tools that really lets us know what we should stock next. We’ve got a great following now because of the emphasis we put on education. We’re not a box shifting company; we’ve got two development chefs, a training facility in Lancaster and another one opening soon in Hyde Park and ensure there are plenty of resources and recipes out there for people to look at. We don’t just want to sell someone a sous vide machine and then leave it to them to figure out what to cook with it. I think that’s the secret of our success.’

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