‘I use it because it’s better’: why chefs are embracing the electric stove | Gas stoves
The evidence that gas stoves are bad for human health has grown so staggeringly in recent years that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recently announced it would consider banning the appliances. Although a conservative backlash prompted the White House to rule out the possibility of a nationwide ban, and some states passed prospective laws barring cities from ever adopting gas bans, other cities, including Berkeley, New York and San Francisco, already moved to barring new gas connections due to health and environmental concerns.
One study from earlier this month found that one in eight cases of asthma in children in the US is caused by gas stove pollution. According to the study’s lead author, Talor Gruenwald, a research associate at the nonprofit Rewiring America, this means that living in a home with a gas stove is comparable to living in a home with a smoker. Gas stoves emit pollutants so harmful that the air pollution they create would be illegal if they were outdoors, and this isn’t just true when you’re actively cooking – gas stoves continue to emit harmful compounds like methane even when is turned off. Besides the adverse health impacts, those emissions are greenhouse gases that also contribute to the climate crisis.
But solutions are within reach. “The most certain way to eliminate the risk of asthma in children from gas stoves is to move to a clean cooking alternative such as an induction cooktop or electric cooktop,” Gruenwald said.
Switching to electric isn’t just a boon for your health and the planet—it also makes for a better cooking experience, according to a growing number of professional chefs. Read on to hear about three who embraced electric and love the results.
Jon Kung: Wok cooking is ‘more of an authentic experience’
Although he may be best known these days for TikTok videos showcasing his kitchen prowess, deadpan humor and the occasional thirst drop, Jon Kung worked professionally as a chef for more than a decade before pandemic lockdowns prompted him to start cooking videos post on the internet. He was first introduced to induction cooking, which uses a magnetic field to efficiently heat pots and pans, while working in a commercial kitchen in Macau, China. He came to rely heavily on induction burners in his current home, Detroit, Michigan, because he often worked pop-ups in spaces with limited ventilation.
“There was no altruistic intention in my decision to accept induction. I use it because it’s better,” he said. “Induction hobs are easier to clean, more responsive and just as powerful, if not more powerful, than gas. My induction burner can boil eight liters of water in 11 minutes – that’s super fast.”
Nowadays, Kung uses induction “100% of the time”. He often works on an induction wok, which has an induction hob with a bowl-shaped surface to which a wok fits perfectly, and rejects criticism that gas stove bans will prevent chefs from properly cooking Chinese food.
“You can buy a curved induction wok burner made specifically for wok and it works better than cooking on a wok on a western gas range,” he said. “That wok burner was literally made by Chinese people to cook Chinese food – when I cook, it’s more of an authentic experience than cooking on a KitchenAid or a Viking range ever was.”
Still, Kung acknowledged that there will be a learning curve for chefs when they initially make the switch. The biggest difference, he noted, is that gas stoves provide both “visual and tactile” feedback on how hot the cooking surface is, while induction cooktops require users to rely on numbers on a screen to know what temperature they’re working with. He recommended cooking with eggs when you first switch to quickly get the kind of visual feedback that will help you use an induction burner.
And for the small handful of dishes that really require fire – think crème brûlée or charred peppers – he keeps a blowtorch in his kitchen. “I think flame should be a rarely used tool for specific purposes in my kitchen, instead of putting my health at risk all the time because of these few times I actually have to use fire,” he said.
Christopher Galarza: faster, easier to clean and a low barrier to entry
Christopher Galarza spent a decade working in conventional kitchens before having his first experience in an all-electric commercial kitchen as an executive chef at Chatham University, a Pittsburgh institution known for its focus on sustainable food systems. Going electric changed her and her staff’s experience of working in the kitchen, in part because working with gas stoves can be a sweltering experience.
“I had a meat thermometer in my chef’s coat at one old restaurant job, and I looked down one day and noticed my thermometer read 135F,” he said. In contrast, the all-electric kitchen he worked in at Chatham stayed pleasantly in the low 70s, even on summer days when it was 90 degrees outside and the kitchen was in full production mode. “We were able to drastically lower the temperature in the kitchen, which made us all more comfortable,” he added. “And for me personally, I can tell you that my mental health has been better.”
Chef Chris Galarza. Photo: Courtesy of Chris Galarza
He is convinced that this is a benefit passed on to the guests who ate the food he cooked. “People can sense when you’re stressed,” he said, “and they can tell when you’re relaxed and happy.” But there was also a benefit to the bottom line, in that induction stoves are much faster and easier to clean, which allowed him to spend less money on harsh cleaning chemicals and to send his kitchen staff home earlier while the “dollar per working hours went “way up”.
He cites other studies that show the utility costs of running a gas-powered or electric-powered kitchen are quite similar, noting that even for home chefs the barrier to entry is low: “You can go on Amazon and buy an induction burner. for $60 that plugs into the same outlet you have your coffee maker in,” he said.
Galarza is so convinced that electric is the future of professional cooking that he started a consulting business to help other kitchens make the switch. “Every international culinary competition in the world, from the Bocuse d’Or to the Culinary Olympics, is all electric,” he said. “The standard by which the international cooking community judges each other is on induction. And these are the best chefs on the planet.”
Even though right-wing politics have incited a culture war over gas stoves in the US, he dismisses much of it as political posturing. “At the end of the day, no one is going to come into your house with a crowbar and take your stove, just like no one is going to kick down your door and check your house for asbestos or lead paint,” he said. “The gas stove is this generation’s equivalent of lead paint. This is something we thought was OK, which we later found out is a danger. And now we have an opportunity to fix it.”
Tu David Phu: no better way to sear meat
Before chef Tu David Phu worked in the kitchens of top restaurants like New York’s Daniel or San Francisco’s Acquerello or appeared on shows like Top Chef or Chefsgiving, he was a “first-generation Vietnamese-American kid from Oakland who grew up food insecure,” he said. His experiences with food at both ends of the economic spectrum – from childhood in a food desert to an adulthood that included cooking for the world’s richest people – have deeply shaped how he sees sustainability conversations in the context of food and cooking.
Tu David Phu. Photo: Spencer Aldworth Brown
He became familiar with induction cooking in fine dining kitchens, which he says prioritized electric hobs because they allow chefs to work in small spaces and with greater precision – the pastry department at one of his old jobs was particularly fond of induction ‘s capacity to melt chocolate or make syrup without burning it. But Phu is determined to dispel the notion that kitchen electrification is only for the privileged few.
“I feel very passionate about including working class and poor people in this electrification movement,” he said. Black, brown and Indigenous communities are already disproportionately at risk of pollution-related health impacts, due to “modern-day redlining” that locates polluting industries in BIPOC neighborhoods, he said; they should not also be saddled with the health impacts of no other option than cooking on gas. “Decarbonisation as a whole, not just electrification, is a justice issue,” he said. He praises the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that allow low-income households to get as much as $840 in rebates for electric stoves, but wants to see more initiatives focused on spreading the word about these options to the communities that need it most.
On a personal level, the Orange County, California-based chef uses induction cooktops “religiously” in his own home, arguing that there’s no better way to sear meat than using a cast-iron stove on an induction cooktop. not used. His biggest tip for successful induction use is to remember that induction cooktops can reach smoke point in about 15 seconds, so he recommends staying in the low to medium power range when cooking, unless you’re boiling water.
He recognizes the importance of personal and cultural identities tied up in food, but he does not think this should be a barrier to making changes necessary for the health of people and the planet. “My response to the resistance of some in the Asian community who say they can’t cook ‘authentic’ food without gas is: it doesn’t matter if you can cook a certain way or not if you don’t have an ozone or fresh didn’t. air to breathe,” he said. “Throughout all our histories, we have prioritized our survival first, and we have adapted and modified our identities and cultures accordingly, because survival is more important.”