Chefs are a fairly conservative lot, and mostly they still like to be "cooking with gas". Induction is gaining more and more admirers, however, not least because it will help keep the kitchen cool. Emma White investigates
Gas-powered kitchens have long been favoured by chefs, but when it comes to protecting the environment and energy efficiency, induction wins hands down. This, together with the rise in gas prices, improved technology and awareness of the advantages of induction, explains why more chefs are requesting it in their kitchen suites.
Steve Hobbs, director of Signature FSE, agents for Athanor suites, says the movement away from gas towards electrical equipment including induction in the past few years is undeniable. "Three or four years ago our suites were typically powered 70-80% by gas but now a typical suite is only about 20-30% gas-powered. Gas prices have increased considerably and we have noticed more of a requirement for induction equipment."
Dan Loria, sales director for Exclusive Ranges, which distributes Salvis equipment, says: "People have always liked cooking with gas but they are increasingly learning to trust induction." And Colin Leonard, UK sales manager for Charvet Premier Ranges, says that for every suite he supplies he receives a question about induction. "People are curious to know how induction might fit into their kitchens," he says.
Induction works by transferring an alternating current through a ferromagnetic coil, creating a magnetic field beneath the ceramic top of a hob that transfers heat directly to a pan. Unlike gas or traditional electric power, induction cooking works only when the pan is placed within this magnetic zone, so that energy is directed where it is needed. When using an induction hob, more than 90% of every pound spent on energy goes straight to the pan. Gas delivers less than 50% and traditional electric less than 60%. And because the pan itself is turned into the heat source the hob remains cool: heat doesn't build up and no carcinogenic fumes are given off - which reduces or eliminates the need for extraction units or air conditioning.
There are other plus points. The reduction in heat also means that refrigeration equipment can maintain its required temperature more easily. Furthermore, induction hobs create a much cooler and more comfortable working environment than gas power, and the absence of naked flames or hot working surfaces makes them safer to use. And because the hobs are cooler, food doesn't stick as easily.
Induction is also fast and efficient - boiling four pints of water in less than a minute - and enables precise control of temperature so that foods such as soups and stews can be cooked over long periods of time without the risk of burning.
Induction units can be installed into any kitchen, and as Leonard says:" P ventilation.< poor with kitchens small to suited particularly is it cool, keep will induction because And areas.? kitchen all for suitable fact in but areas pastry of think people lot A>
Induction suites by Swiss company Menu Systems were fitted in London's Lanesborough hotel kitchens three years ago and executive chef Paul Gayler has no regrets. "I was doubtful about the idea of induction at first because I like a gas stove, but we got used to it very quickly," he says. "One of the nicest things is having a cool kitchen and the units are easy to keep clean with a little soapy water and a scourer."
The suite in the main kitchen has 15 induction hobs plus one for a wok, while a second smaller suite in the upstairs kitchen has nine hobs and a wok cooker. Gayler says the 9kW hobs are very simple to operate. "Timing is the main issue. Heat is instant and with induction you can't put an empty pan on and walk away as 30 seconds later the bottom will have burnt off," he says.
Since the induction suite was installed, Gayler says, energy savings have amounted to roughly £600 a month.
As well as rising gas prices, the requirement to fit an expensive gas interlock between gas equipment and ventilation canopies is another reason why kitchens are keen to look at alternatives. Steve Loughton, managing director of equipment manufacturer Enodis, says: "The interlock is expensive and inconvenient. If a ventilation canopy has an electrical failure the gas supply is automatically shut off and chefs have the hassle of relighting individual pieces of equipment."
Alex Aitken, chef and proprietor of New Forest hotel Le Poussin, switched to induction after tiring of the high cost of delivered gas. "We own a remote country house hotel with no mains gas," he says. "We considered radiant electric plates but preferred the guarantee of not wasting power with induction. Gas solid tops are wasteful and make a kitchen very hot."
Cost has always been a barrier for many people considering induction but improved technology and the increase in popularity are driving down prices. "Induction used to be expensive but the end-user price is now less than £1,000 a ring so chefs need to get over the idea that it is expensive," Davies says. He adds that, because of its benefits to the environment, the Carbon Trust is enabling some companies to get an interest-free loan for induction. As Hobbs says: "When it first came to the market induction hobs were costing £3,000 a time. Now they are about £650-700."
Manufacturers are also keen to point out that savings in energy costs make up for the high capital cost. "Induction kitchens pay for themselves in quite a short time," Leonard says.
Gayler says chefs need to "take everything into consideration" when thinking about the cost of induction kitchens. "While induction is not a cheap piece of equipment it is worth the money," he argues. "You've also got to look at it as having a happier team working in an environment where they are not physically tired out by heat."
Caterers may also find they have the added cost of buying a new set of saucepans made from magnetic materials. However Peter Rigby, sales manager at cookware distributor Meyer, warns chefs to watch out for manufacturers selling non-magnetic pans that they claim are suitable for induction. "The base of the pan must be magnetic - place a simple fridge magnet against it to check."
Fitting ovens beneath induction units is another area of contention because the induction unit - which needs to be kept cool - is so close to the oven. Hobbs explains that air temperature around the induction electrical component must be maintained at below 35°C. "It is very difficult to maintain this temperature if you put an oven that is trying to achieve a temperature of 200-300°C below an induction unit," he says.
However, some manufacturers have got around the problem by locating the electronics remotely. "Ambient heat is less of a hindrance now," Loughton says. "By locating a generator away in a cool unit it is possible to fit ovens beneath the units."
Nigel Rothery, formerly of Catering Connections, the company that fitted the Lanesborough's Menu Systems kitchen, and now products manager at Euro Property Services, adds that fitting the generator in the bottom of the unit also makes it easier to service induction hobs. "You used to have to access the generator beneath the glass top and coils, but now you simply have to open a separate cupboard to access the electronics," he says.
Induction technology is constantly evolving, but the hobs currently on the market range from single-plate free-standing units at 3-5kW to bespoke suites powered by 9kW hobs - and some companies offer 12-15kW induction hobs. "Induction is definitely becoming faster and more effective," Leonard says. And whereas a few years ago one 400mm hob was limited to one saucepan, manufacturers now supply multizone hobs with several coils, enabling chefs to fit four or five pans on one hob. Larger 800mm by 800mm hobs are also now on the market, enabling chefs to move pans around zones of varying temperatures without needing to lift them, although Rothery advises caution. "If someone were to drop a heavy object on to the surface and crack it, they would lose their entire cooking surface. I recommend that chefs should have multiple smaller units."
Manufacturers are also developing induction grills and griddles, and US manufacturer Cooktek has developed a meal delivery and buffet system. An induction unit warms heat-retaining discs on the meal delivery system, which keeps food at the desired temperature for room service deliveries. The buffet system consists of induction surfaces that can be dropped into any countertop or servery to be used with corresponding chafing dishes. New from Induced Energy is a mobile cooking station fitted with an overhead ventilation unit and electric fan oven, which provides room for up to 12 saucepans.
Afraid of induction?
Finally, as is the case with all up-and-coming technology, while many chefs are keen to embrace induction, other chefs remain committed to gas. "I think some people are afraid of induction," Leonard says.
"People like tradition and gas is an instant source of energy and easily controlled," adds Electrolux Professional managing director Andrew Jones. "People don't like change but chefs have to look at the options available and induction never fails to impress in terms of speed, control and productivity."
Hobbs observes that colleges still largely work with gas and says: "Until there is a fundamental change in perception, newly trained chefs will continue to be most familiar with gas. Schools in Switzerland and Germany, where there is no natural gas, use induction-based kitchens and I think there is a lot to learn from those markets."
Pete Evans, product development manager for manufacturers Hobart and Bonnet, says induction is definitely more popular but concedes that many chefs believe you don't get the same "showmanship as you do with gas". "If you speak to many conventionally trained chefs they will say there is nothing like a gas burner to cook with," he said. "If you want to do flambé work you are a little bit stuck with an induction hob."
Leonard, however, argues that energy prices are not going to come down and gas equipment will only get more expensive. "Money spent well today will stand you in good stead for the future. And why should you work in an unbearably hot kitchen?"
Summing up the argument for induction, CESA director Keith Warren concludes: "Induction cooking equipment can be an important part of commercial kitchens' overall energy management plan. It is well worth reviewing whether induction can be used to cook items more efficiently."
High-profile installations of induction equipment, such as the suite at the Lanesborough (above), are helping to convince the hospitality community of the benefits of this cooking technology