Try it and you'll never go back, proclaim the converts. As more kitchens ditch their gas burners for induction hobs, Fiona Sims
A large pan of water is set on the hob and brought to the boil. It starts bubbling at miraculous speed - ready for our recently (and humanely) dispatched lobsters.
We are attending a cookery class at Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest, the first of many for the team at the venue's HH & Co restaurant. But this is a cookery class with a difference - there's not a gas burner in sight.
We're trying out the hotel's new cookery school kitchen. Once the swanky hotel's snooker room, it is now decked out with six new Panasonic induction hobs.
It takes us a while to get used to them - we're all induction virgins here - but once we've got the hang of the controls, we're off, the more tech-savvy among us discovering the genius sensor, which controls the boil, among other things.
The restaurant kitchen at Lime Wood was one of the first to ditch gas and go electric when it opened in 2009. Its Athanor induction hobs are still going strong, reports head chef Luke Holder, who runs the school with chef Iain Longhorn, in partnership with the other 'H' in the collaboration, London-based Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett.
HH&Co Backstage at Lime Wood
"I'll never go back," declares Holder, on a tour of his restaurant kitchen earlier. "In the old days, before induction, we would arrive early in the morning and turn everyÂthing on. The kitchen got so hot. Then we would use the expensive-to-run extraction system to suck up all that heat - such a waste of energy. Now it's all about heat on demand. It's just much nicer working conditions," he shrugs, stroking his electric plancha and his favourite, the induction grill.
Holder and his team are part of a growing number of chefs who have made the switch to induction. John Williams's kitchen at the Ritz in London is unrecognisable from the hot, sweaty, assault course it was before, with its sleek bank of induction hobs from Exclusive Ranges.
"We now have temperatures in the kitchen cooler than it has been outside on some days," enthuses Williams. "The speed of work is absolutely amazing; sometimes you're looking at three to four times quicker. Plus, the open-plan layout gives us such good communication. The chefs are calmer and more relaxed, which is just brilliant. And on top of all of that, the cleanliness is fantastic."
We're certainly feeling the benefits. We're now bringing a pan of milk, cream, vanilla pod seeds and sugar up to simmer for the panna cotta and the control is impressive.
"You have so much more control in the pan," says Longhorn. "Take deep-frying, for example. You can bring oil up to a certain temperature and then keep it there for as long as you need it - it won't burn. Okay, so it takes a bit of getting used to as it's so sensitive - it's not like twisting a dial."
Teething problems include chefs brushing over the controls without realising it, switching the hob off, or using pans that are too small for the rings. Or if something mistakenly lands on the hob, that can also turn it off automatically. "It's a bit like getting a new smartphone," Longhorn says. "It's just a matter of getting used to it.
"In general, though, we find that induction refines your cooking - it makes you think about things before you proceed. For me, it's great because it cooks things so quickly, then lets things cool down quickly too.
"Look - feel that," he says, shoving a Le Creuset pan my way. "It's cool now and we were boiling stock in that a few minutes ago."
The baked bream dish we have moved on to requires a stock prepared with fresh tomatoes and lobster bisque. The liquid comes to a gentle boil in seconds, then, after whisking in some truffle butter, we let it cool down for a few minutes before adding the raw fish fillets and sealing the dish with a bread crust.
"Working with sugar is also a lot easier using induction," Longhorn adds, measuring out pre-made stock syrup for a basil granita that will be served with the panna cotta we made earlier.
"Sugar requires a specific temperature. Once it's reached that temperature, the hob beeps, telling you it's ready," he says, infusing the basil leaves in the warmed-through syrup and water, then adding some Thermomix-ed basil before blending the lot and freezing.
"It's all about simple but effective recipes here. We don't want you to go away thinking this is all about Heston-style dry ice and smears. We don't take ourselves too seriously - that's why we called it Backstage, because we didn't want to put the emphasis on the school and the lesson plan. It's about having a bite to eat, getting a bit drunk, and hopefully learning something," chuckles Longhorn.
And what we learned is that we all want an induction hob. In fact, I promptly went out and bought one - a new Miele hob (a KM6115, if you're interested). It does what it says on the tin and then some. I now boil water on the hob just for the fun of it, my old kettle looking on, neglected. I'll never go back either. Holder may well be right.
Lincat induction suite
'The kitchen of my dreams'
Emily Watkins, chef-proprietor at the Kingham Plough in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, says: "The old kitchen was insufferably hot. The equipment seemed to be performing less well; the gas emission from the burners was uneven, and I used to get frustrated by the power being permanently on. So one of things we wanted to improve was not only the cooking equipment so that we could do a better job, but also to reduce the energy we were using.
"The kitchen equipment needed replacing as it had come to the end of its life and it was a choice of replacing like for like, or being more up-to-date and investing in creating a better working atmosphere. So that's when we decided to go down the induction route.
"It's brilliant. It did take us a little while to get used to it, but our Target Catering induction hobs are performing. The instant power when you need it is phenomenal.
"You are also cooking so much more quickly and able to blanch and refresh quicker. Induction hobs are easier to keep clean too, unlike the old gas burners.
"The chefs are a lot happier. It used to take a good hour for a large 50-litre stockpot to come to the boil on the old gas burner; now it's about 20 minutes. We were also pleasantly surprised by the electricity bill - it wasn't as much as we thought it was going to be. I've got the kitchen of my dreams."
How it works
The use of the induction cooking technology has increased significantly over the last 10-15 years for several reasons: firstly, a whole new generation of induction cooking equipment has been designed, manufactured and launched, while at the same time costs to produce the technology have dropped. Energy costs have also increased substantially, making induction cooking a very attractive proposition and alternative to traditional gas and electric heating.
An induction coil or 'element' is used as a powerful, high-frequency electromagnet. When switched on, it creates a magnetic field spreading over a few centimetres. Placing anything made of magnetic material (such as cast iron) inside this field will heat it up. The field induces (or transfers) energy to the metal, causing the molecules in the cooking vessel to vibrate very fast. This creates friction - a form of energy - which turns into heat. This also means that the heat is created inside the pan as opposed to under it (as with gas or standard tops). As soon as the pan is removed from the 'element' the heat generation stops. The power level of the electromagnetic field can be changed in a very precise way, giving chefs complete control of the cooking process.
A commercial induction hob can boil a pan of water in less than a minute.
HH&Co Backstage at Lime Wood
What the manufacturers say
"Panasonic has been manufacturing home appliances in the UK for almost 30 years, so it has a great heritage in this market. We started manufacturing induction hobs in Cardiff because we see them as a strong product for the future and a smart option for British consumers. Cooking on induction hobs is often quicker and easier, which is perfect for busy chefs and keen home-cooks alike.
"Induction technology is very energy-efficient, using only the precise amount of energy needed to generate heat in the base of the cookware. This method of heating also makes these hobs safer than other types as the surrounding cooking area remains cool to the touch.
"The speed, precision and key features of our induction hobs can help users overcome many daily cooking challenges as they are equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including infra-red 'genius' sensors, which give consistent cooking results every time."
Sue O'Donnell, Panasonic Manufacturing UK
"Induction hobs have been around for a long time, but I think it's fair to say that the concept has taken a while for it to fully take off. There has been resistance from chefs for a few reasons.
"Chefs are becoming more familiar with the technology now. This could be because we're seeing more induction cookers in domestic environments. We're seeing the technology being taken on within the commercial environment, particularly as people are more concerned with energy efficiency and productivity.
"The Electrolux Professional modular product lines (900XP and 700XP) contain induction hobs and are ideal for high-productivity kitchens and contract caterers.
"Induction hobs are suitable for front of house where customers are, so the equipment meets the needs of the growing trend of kitchen theatre. Induction lends itself perfectly to this.
"It is also more agreeable for customers as less heat is created from induction hobs compared to traditional alternatives, so the temperature for customers dining will be much more comfortable.
"If you compare induction to traditional gas, even the most efficient burners on the market are no more than 60% efficient. Induction is in excess of 90% efficient, which means the vast majority of energy is being put to good use while it is in operation.
"Induction hobs don't only save energy, they also stop the kitchen from becoming too hot as they produce less heat. The working temperature in the kitchen is reduced, which makes the working environment a lot more comfortable for every member of staff."
Stuart Flint, regional training and demonstration manager, Electrolux Professional
"We have seen sales rocket since the introduction of our first IH21 induction hob in 2011, to such an extent that we recently expanded our offering to include a further eight models.
"Induction has now come of age, with the technology behind it becoming more affordable. It has become an accepted form of cooking as induction gives you both the control and the power, from gentle heat requirements for pÁ¢tisserie work through to the high level of heat required for stir-frying in our SLI3W wok model."
Helen Applewhite, Lincat
"We have seen a big move towards more energy-efficient kitchens over the last three to five years. Chefs are more and more convinced of the benefits of working with induction, including precise temperature control during cooking and reduced heat in the kitchen.
"There is still a concern over the initial capital cost, but the savings outweigh this over the operating life of the product.
"Some of our chef clients include Shaun Rankin, who has introduced induction into several areas at his new London site, Shaun Rankin at 12 Hay Hill in Mayfair, London, a newly opened private members' club.
"We are also working with Daniel Clifford for his new pub Flitch of Bacon. It will include an Athanor suite incorporating induction."
Stephen Hobbs, director, Grande Cuisine