This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.
The pandemic left a lot of us with time to reflect, among other things. Not just reflecting on how bad things were; there were plenty of people telling us that 24/7, but rather on our own lives, careers and futures. I spent a lot of time thinking about our industry. I thought about where we came from, where we are going, and what the next generation of chefs will inherit.
For many, working in a professional kitchen is a rite of passage, whether it be a part-time summer job or a full-time career. In most cases, we share the common experience of the sweltering heat emanating from the kitchen as we walk into a hellscape that only the truly dedicated can call home. The ovens roaring at full blast, spewing their heat into the kitchen every time they are opened. The steam coming off every pot, kettle and steamer. Not to mention that all-too-familiar ring of fire that seemingly never gets extinguished. These are the realities of the kitchen, but the truth is, there has never been a real examination into the design and efficacy of the kitchen space for the better part of a century.
In my time pondering, I realized that this pandemic has given us a once-in-a-century opportunity to create sustained change that might actually take hold. This pandemic has given me hope that we may never go back to how things were before but instead, forge ahead to a ‘new normal’ designed with our staff and planet in mind.
The status-quo of the industry leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to a healthy/comfortable environment and quality of life. I understand being wholeheartedly, unequivocally, head-over-heels in love with the craft of cooking and the lifestyle that can surround it. The truth is, working under traditional conditions can have disastrous consequences to one’s health, personal relationships and the local/global environment as a whole.
In order for us to move forward to creating a culinary utopia, we first need to accept that the days of cooking on gas needs to be in the past. We need to forge a new path forward and think about the electrification and decarbonization of the residential and commercial kitchen. We need to embrace technology that the rest of the gastronomic world have already come to terms with. What I’m proposing isn’t actually new. It’s only a new concept for Americans and our “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” mentality.
Photo: Formerly executive chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus, Chris Galarza is founder and culinary sustainability consultant for Forward Dining Solutions.
So, what is induction cooking? It’s a manner of cooking that generates heat through electro-magnetic waves. The electromagnetic current generated oscillates the magnetic elements in the pan to create friction on a molecular level. This in turn creates heat and essentially makes the pan, itself, the heating element. To simplify this, imagine your microwave at home. The microwave sends “micro-waves” into the food and excites the water molecules within that food creating a friction that conducts heat from within the inside out.
Burning natural gas produces harmful biproducts such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants. The average outdoor concentration of carbon monoxide is 0.03 – 2.5 ppm (parts per million). The Federal government instituted a maximum standard of 9 ppm. Despite this the average kitchen reaches level well exceeding 200ppm. That’s an unacceptable level for our staff and even the people at home. The average home cook doesn’t turn on their in-home ventilation system because of the noise that it emits thus filling their homes with these harmful pollutants. Given these facts and the nature of the pandemic and how it attacked the lungs of those who contracted the virus it’s on us to make sure we create environments that provide clean air.
Induction cooking and electric kitchens in general are far more efficient, and because of this cook far more quickly than gas. The absolute best, biggest and most expensive gas range is only 50% efficient. Which means that if you have a 60,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) range you will at best only be using 30,000 BTU to actually heat your food. This means that it takes 2.0 KW of energy to create 1 KBTU of heat energy. For every $1 in gas, you spend you’re throwing away 50 cents or worse. The unused burned off gas is contributing to your building working as hard as it is to maintain a comfortable temperature which is running up your AC cost and putting out more harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.
Now that we know the efficiency of a gas range, let’s examine an induction range. An induction range is on average 90% efficient which means that it takes 1.1KW of energy to create 1 KBTU of heat energy and because there are no thermal sources of heat, there’s no excess heat escaping the kitchen and thus leaving the environment relatively cool and easy to work in.
What does that mean within a day-to-day operation? With a top-of-the-line gas range we can cook an average of 38.6 pounds of food per hour. With the average induction range we can cook an average of 70.9 pounds of food per hour. This means with the same kitchen footprint you are now increasing your through-put well beyond what you thought possible.
Switching to electric can decrease cleaning time too. Since the induction unit doesn’t have any heat source there are no opportunities to develop burnt or stuck on food onto the cooking surface. To clean the induction range you simply need to wipe the surface down with hot soapy water… that’s it.
Compare that to a traditional gas range where you need to take the burners apart and scrub them; clean and replace the foil in the drip trays, clean any stuck-on debris on the range and put it all back together. All while being mindful that if you do not put the burner back correctly (and light the pilot light) it will leak gas into the kitchen. Electric cooking is far easier to maintain and clean which leaves staff free to produce food rather than spend a portion of their shift scrubbing down the kitchen.
There are many other benefits to going electric. The buildings that the kitchen inhabits run more efficiently, the staff are comfortable, better guest interactions, overall reduction in overhead, ease of maintenance.
As the generation that currently holds the torch, it’s up to us to ensure that our industry can sustain itself, our staff and most importantly the planet. If we don’t seize this opportunity and make a change, then who will?