Ten years after induction was hailed as the energy efficient answer for fuel-hungry kitchens, Diane Lane reports on whether it has come of age
Some 10 years ago, a new technology emerged for use in commercial kitchens. Hailed as the energy efficient answer for fuel-hungry kitchens, induction had arrived on the scene. But back then the technology was a mystery and chefs were generally suspicious of it.
A decade on and the term induction is ubiquitous. The mystery has gone and the technology has firmly established itself in the professional kitchen.
Crucially, chefs are starting to understand that switching to induction doesn't mean losing control over the heat. In fact, these day it's quite the opposite. Hatco UK managing director Mark Poultney explains: "You get a better quality of food as induction hobs are instantly adjustable, unlike electric coils and elements, which can take time to cool down and heat up, resulting in infinitely more precise temperatures than even gas cooking."
As a result, its popularity is growing. "It's a market that has grown significantly, but the latest technological advance is likely to see induction become the cooking surface of choice," says Simon Frost, regional sales director at Manitowoc, which manufactures Garland induction units. "In the past, induction units have tended to be single-use items. However, one of the key developments in the past few months is the way that induction can now fit on top of a traditional range."
In tune with induction
FCSI consultant and SeftonHornWinch managing director Gareth Sefton has incorporated induction equipment into several projects, including Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at London's Mandarin Oriental hotel. He says that chefs have become more "in tune" with induction.
"There was a resistance from chefs to move away from gas because they had built up trust with what they were using, and if a chef doesn't trust the equipment, it's very hard to use it in service," he says. "But in the past five years they have started to embrace it. It tends to be the high end of the market adopting it, which goes hand in hand with the level of investment required."
The technology itself has moved on in terms of its power and functionality, as Steve Hobbs, director of Signature FSE, the UK agent for French bespoke suite manufacturer Athanor and induction equipment manufacturer Adventys, explains. "Ten years ago the maximum was a 5kW induction generator but chefs wanted more power and a more rapid response, so manufacturers increased power to 14kW," he says. "Also, we now have multi-zone units, so you have a 14kW induction unit split into four 3.5kW zones to use as one unit for one or two big pans or individually for smaller pans."
Some manufacturers have developed sequential induction units designed to mimic the traditional solid top so beloved by chefs. Exclusive Ranges introduced a range of induction hobs that operate with a pan sliding action, so the cooking power on the Menu System Slide Control is controlled by moving the pan on the hob.
Similarly, Control Induction has its "Slider" induction hob, which heats pans anywhere on its 360mm x 760mm vitro ceramic surface. It has multiple elements of different powers, adding up to 10kW. Charvet has also developed a 4 x 2kW sequential unit for its cooking suites. Again, it only pulls the power needed in relation to the pan size.
For those who want the benefits of induction but can't afford a bespoke suite, Falcon Foodservice Equipment, manufacturer of the popular Dominator six-burner range, has developed an induction range featuring a 4 x 5kW zone hob over a fan-assisted oven.
There are conflicting opinions about fitting ovens under an induction unit, and while some manufacturers are happy to do so, others are more cautious. "It is possible to have ovens fitted underneath induction hobs but it's essential to prevent warm air from the ovens entering the cavity containing the induction electronics," says Snelgrove.
Another development is in the application of induction beyond the now-familiar hob, in solid cooking plates such as griddles and planchas. While initially this may seem confusing because it doesn't offer the benefit of only using power when actually cooking, as with pans on hobs, it does have advantages. "The idea is that it heats quicker and uses less energy to maintain the temperature as heat is generated directly on to the plate," Hobbs explains. "It also offers more precise temperature control to within two degrees."
At MCS Technical Products, induction technology has been applied to food holding. Among its brands is CookTek, which tackled the problem of holding food at accurate temperatures and in good quality for reasonable lengths of time. Its Incogneeto Induction Heated Buffet System consists of 650W induction units mounted underneath a granite counter, through which the induction waves penetrate to reach a disc on the surface of the counter without the need for wires. Besides the accurate temperature and energy savings of the induction technology, another benefit is that at the end of service the induction compatible chafing dishes and disc can be removed, allowing the counter surface to be used for other purposes.
Some 10 or so years after its first tentative steps in UK kitchens, induction technology is finally gaining the respect it deserves. Ian Clow, national sales manager for Charvet, states that in nearly every design for a Charvet suite there is a discussion on induction. In fact, at the recent Hotelympia exhibition at ExCeL, Clow estimates that 90% of enquiries from chefs visiting the Charvet stand were about induction.
He says: "There's definitely a growing interest in the benefits of a cooler working environment and energy savings. Induction isn't for everybody and there are chefs who say no, but the message now is that it's foolish to ignore it - at least debate it and see if it's right for you."
Heavy-duty cooking at Trinity College, Cambridge
At Trinity College, Cambridge, a catering team of 76 full-time chefs, kitchen staff and waiters are tasked with serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to up to 950 undergraduates, 350 graduates and 187 fellows, plus 375 members of staff, working out at about 1,800 meals round the clock. The team also regularly hosts banquets of up to eight courses for royal visitors, heads of state and distinguished academics.
"There is a huge and constant demand on the equipment when you're catering for such large numbers at least three times a day," says catering manager Ian Reinhardt. "The kitchen hadn't been upgraded in 20 years and the facilities were increasingly falling short of the changing requirements to meet the daily operation."
As part of a complete kitchen refurbishment to increase efficiency, "future proof" the facilities and produce high-quality food, an MKN Küchenmeister heavy-duty induction cooking suite was installed. With several separately regulated heating zones, each with a 5kW capability, plus electronic pan size recognition, it allows chefs to adjust the cooking heat instantly and with the utmost precision.
Reinhardt adds: "There were several reasons for our decision to switch to induction: the reduced extraction rates needed, less carbon build-up on the pans, the economical and environmental benefits, and its usability - it's quicker to cook on and easier to control.
"One of the most important benefits we've seen from switching is the noticeable reduction in lost heat, which creates a much more comfortable environment for the chefs to work in.
"This is our first foray into this type of cooking and it is fantastic. You only have to have the ranges on when you are cooking or heating food, making it extremely efficient, controllable and clean."
Dramatic drops in kitchen temperature
When Electrolux Professional fitted out Glynn Purnell's eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in Birmingham, the choice of cooking surface was two Thermaline S90 large zone induction plates, each featuring two independently controlled induction zones with a power of 7kW and two coils per zone.
Induction was chosen partly for the long-term savings that 90% cooking efficiency can achieve, and also for the improvement to the working environment. The decision has helped reduce the kitchen temperature, dramatically improving working conditions and overall kitchen productivity.
Purnell says: "When we installed the equipment the kitchen temperature dropped from 35°C to 25°C, which is quite a significant difference. It made the working conditions for my team more comfortable and allows them to work at a faster pace now that the equipment radiates less heat.
"Plus, the speed with which the electric hobs heat up and the quick drop in heat when the induction plates are turned off play an important part in helping us deliver customers' meals quickly and reduces the risk of them getting cold. Crucially this leaves us to concentrate on producing high-quality dishes that meet the expectations of our customers. For me, that is invaluable."
Portable plug-in units add mobility
At the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains, near Nottingham, several of the hobs in the kitchens are induction and chef-proprietor Bains has now added Lincat's first commercial induction hob, the IH21, to the mix.
When it comes to hobs, he believes that induction is "the forward-thinking technology" for the professional chef and is particularly impressed with the rapid heat-up and almost double cooking power of a similarly rated gas hob.
"A hob with a high kW rating gives a lot of power, which is important as it has to perform just as well as the fitted appliances," he says.
The portable, plug-in unit adds mobility to the long list of induction benefits for Bains.
"Its greatest strength is its versatility. We use it in the main kitchen, the pastry section and the back preparation kitchen because you can just pick it up and take it where you need it - it's light to carry," he says. "We can also use it in areas where the ventilation isn't so good because the only heat it kicks out is from the food. The hob itself stays cool. It makes for a cooler working environment for our chefs as well.
"The only time you are using energy is when a pan is on the hob, so in the long term you save energy. Gas stoves or ranges can be left on for longer periods of time, which wastes energy. Induction is also safer - it's difficult to burn food or yourself with an induction hob."
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