Do Chefs Really Prefer Gas?
Common wisdom says chefs prefer gas ranges... but is that still true?
Step into a traditional restaurant kitchen, and you are most likely to find a massive, powerful gas range heating up the pots and pans that contain your five-star dinner. But whether it’s for convenience, modern technology, or safety, induction cooking is gaining popularity with the pros.
Rather then a direct heat source like a gas burner or electronic stovetop, induction ranges rely on magnetic energy to heat iron or steel cookware. When an induction cooktop is turned on, magnets create an electrical current, exciting the iron molecules in the pan and resulting in heat. The pan is directly heated from the magnetic field, which means less heat is lost in the cooking process and the stovetop stays cool to the touch.
For chefs needing consistent temperatures for certain sauces, confections, and techniques, having an induction burner or two in the kitchen is quiet common, as induction cooking is very precise, consistent, and can maintain low temperatures. “As a pastry chef, induction burners are awesome,” explains Pastry Chef Francis Ang of San Francisco’s Fifth Floor restaurant. “You can control the actual temperature, which is vital in pastry as everything has to be exact. It is also very portable so you can carry to offsite events or demos.”
And that portability and small size is another attractive feature for pros. Unlike the massive gas grill, which also requires an elaborate hood system, induction burners take up very little space. For Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. induction burners were the way to go when building his kitchen at The Purple Pig in Chicago. Although the chef uses a wood-burning plancha grill to turn out some of the menu’s charred tapas dishes, the majority of his dishes are cooked on induction burners.
The team at Chef Frederik De Pue’s Table in Washington D.C. works in a kitchen entirely supplied with induction burners. “Induction cooking has a number of advantages for a kitchen as small as ours,” he says. “Efficiency is very important. A pan heats up faster on an induction burner than on a gas range and the cooking surface cools down much faster, so our chefs have some extra space if need be. Plus, you get more even cooking with induction, it’s much easier to clean, and it’s cost efficient.”
Induction heat is also a much more direct heat source, and safer, as Pastry Chef Kimberly Bulger of San Francisco’s Scala’s Bistro points out. “With induction there are no flames leaping up the sides of the pot to scorch my chocolate or caramelize my sugar. I have better control for making delicate sauces and custard bases for ice creams. In addition, there is no risk of setting a towel on fire and less risk of my cooks getting burned by a hot pan handle.”
The popularity of induction is also spreading from the professional restaurant into the home kitchen. The New York Times reported on a 2009 Mintel survey stating that 22 percent of people asked were planning to purchase an induction range or cooktop for their next kitchen. Along with the space savings, home cooks are attracted to the energy efficient aspects of induction cooking—the stovetops cook food faster and use less heat in the process then their gas or electric alternatives.
Learn More About Induction Cooktops
As De Pue points out, there are just as many reasons for a home cook to switch to induction as the professional chef. “With no open flame, it’s much safer for houses with children. Cleanup is much easier, and for home cooks with a busy schedule, that’s key. It’s also got a nice, sleek look.”
How Does Induction Work?