When your resort kitchen is responsible for feeding the equivalent of a small town, it pays to centralize. That was the conclusion of Phillip Bucher when he signed on nearly four years ago as F&B director for Casa de Campo, the largest resort in the Dominican Republic.

Casa de Campo’s foodservice situation at the time was fragmented, to say the least. A banquet kitchen handled meals for resort events and the dining needs of up to 2,000 private villas, as well as those of the local marina and airport. At the same time, individual kitchens at the resort’s nearly 15 restaurants cleaned, prepped, and cooked food daily. Casa de Campo employed nearly 600 foodservice employees to keep it all going.

Shortly after Bucher’s arrival, the resort’s owners issued a challenge to the foodservice department: to become a “leading hotel of the world,” says Bucher, who has directed foodservice operations at resorts and hotels in seven countries over the past 12 years.

Between Casa de Campo’s new goals and the fragmented food production system on which the resort relied, “it was short work to persuade the owners to invest in a central kitchen operation,” Bucher adds.

Some $12 million and three years later, Casa de Campo’s new main kitchen is cranking on all cylinders. Its main role is to prep all food used at all resort and resort-related dining venues, a move that has reduced food waste significantly.

Sous vide—in which fresh ingredients are vacuum-packed in pouches, chilled for storage, and later cooked before service—allows Casa de Campo to maintain an inventory of about 2,500 covers at all times while improving efficiency for the satellite kitchens.

“You never know when a big yacht or airplane will arrive or when villa owners will decide they want to borrow some of our chefs to prepare dinner for a group,” Bucher says. He points to last December, shortly after the main kitchen’s opening, as an example. “On New Year’s Eve, we hosted more than 25 banquets simultaneously across the property.”

“Now that we’re prepping and cooking to inventory rather than to order, our staff can finish a week’s worth of food production in three days,” Bucher says.

The greater efficiency of Casa de Campo’s centralized production has created a big side benefit in labor costs. The resort’s foodservice staff is now about 50 percent fewer than three years earlier, much of that thanks to attrition over the three years that the kitchen was in its planning and building stages.

About 40 percent of the kitchen’s 10,760-square-foot area is dedicated to storage (chilled and dry); 30 percent of the space is used for food prep and 30 percent for banquet cooking.

The kitchen, designed by Bucher along with foodservice kitchen consultant José Román of José Román Consulting and the resort company’s team of architects and engineers, maintains a continuous “cold chain.” From loading dock to kitchen, the temperature is set at about 64°F (or lower) to offset the island’s heat, which averages about 90°F from May to October.

Separation by food type is another basic element of the resort’s food safety processes. “We’ve got eight big freezers, a wine cellar, and a cooler dedicated to eggs alone that holds up to 5,000 eggs,” Bucher says.

After an initial cleaning, raw product is brought to “labs” for full cleaning and prep work. Continuing the separation of product, each food category has its own processing area. Protein prep covers three rooms, one each for cleaning, prepping, and vacuumpacking meat, poultry, fish, and seafood into pre-portioned, cook-ready packets. Each area has a freezer in which to store vacuum-packed raw product.

Vegetables and fruits go to a separate area, where produce is further washed, peeled, chopped, and then vacuum-packed. Cheese, with its higher risk of cross-contamination, also has its own dedicated prep area.

Other prep areas specialize in pastry, bakery, and cold kitchen for salads. Additional kitchen areas include the hot kitchen with its lineup of cooking equipment, banquet equipment storage, ice factory, and staff kitchen, plus adjacent staff dining area (with seating for 800).

The resort’s various restaurants—or “satellite kitchens,” as Bucher says—receive the pre-cleaned, measured, chopped food product and now need only to open packages, retherm or cook the food, and plate it.

Casa de Campo’s investment in the main kitchen will pay off in the short term, thanks to labor reduction, but also in the long term. “We’re more efficient now—so overall foodservice department costs have dropped by about 30 percent over the past two years,” Bucher says. “And now we have room to add new restaurants.”