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A Shift of Power – Electric Kitchens

Ask anyone who works in a kitchen what their cooking priorities are, and they will answer with these four key elements…flexibility with the menu, equipment with lots of fire power for faster cooking, strategic equipment placement to reduce inefficient steps and unnecessary crossover for staff and, of course, a cooler environment because all that fire power sure can make it hot!  Impossible to achieve?  Absolutely not!  Electric cooking, once reduced to playing second fiddle to gas as the most popular energy source in a commercial kitchen, is now becoming the star performer in the race to preserve our global environment and our natural resources.

An Oldie but a Goodie

Electric equipment has always been available for commercial use.  However, in the past, with natural gas being plentiful and no discussion of fossil fuels in our collective minds, gas equipment with its hot-on-demand feature provided a better, cheaper, and faster operating alternative for chefs.  It’s no secret that while grill marks on burgers and steaks can still be achieved with electric equipment, it is the perceived flavor profile provided by gas equipment that chefs prefer.  Some believe that customers are drawn into the authenticity of flavors when they see and smell food being cooked on an open flame.

Today however, with goals of reducing carbon footprints, the use of electric equipment is on the rise (and has been for quite some time).  In fact, manufacturers and consultants alike are sharing their knowledge with chefs that electric equipment with its improved energy efficiency is the wave of the future.  Some states and jurisdictions are even banning or limiting the use of gas equipment in new construction to reach their goal of net zero – cutting carbon emissions and energy waste.

What’s Its Worth?   Shrinking the Footprint

The traditional gas cookline takes up a relatively large footprint to cover all the different varieties and styles of cooking.  By contrast, electric equipment offers us options to condense and eliminate bulky equipment (think: vertical kitchen) while providing the same fire power and cooking capacity.   For example, a combi oven is a convection oven and steamer in-one, creating more efficient cooking methods while reducing the footprint from two units to one, with a stackable feature available.  Not only does this reduce costly real estate, especially in places like New York City, but it also shaves precious time off labor use.  You might think smaller kitchen size equals hot kitchen, but by eliminating the heat of the open flame, the room temperature is more manageable even with the reduction in footprint.

Reducing the Hood Length for Good

By reducing the footprint of the cookline, the length of the exhaust hood is decreased as well.  This directly affects the HVAC requirements, as the cfm calculations are also reduced, ultimately resulting in a decrease in operational costs.  Only electric equipment also offers the option of going ventless, meaning no black iron duct out of the building is required.  This is a huge cost savings to the HVAC team, as insulated, fireproofed, black iron ductwork doesn’t have to be coordinated through the entire building.

Reduction in Labor

Another added benefit of using electric equipment is that it can typically reduce labor, which directly affects the client’s bottom line.  Less equipment means potentially fewer employees are required to work on the cookline.  But it is a delicate dance in terms of operations and equipment training; you need to be sure that the decreased number of employees can handle the volume and understand how to operate the equipment efficiently.

Time to put Induction in the Spotlight

Electric equipment also offers us the option of induction technology that uses electric currents to create a magnetic field to generate heat within the cooking vessel itself.  This is a more precise and efficient use of energy because minimal heat energy escapes since the energy goes directly into the pot/pan/cooking vessel.  As a result, the kitchen environment doesn’t get as hot, making for a pleasant working condition.  The cooktop itself remains cool to the touch making it easy to clean as well.  The induction units do require a certain cooking vessel that responds to electromagnetism, such as vessels made of stainless steel and cast iron.  A simple magnet test—placing a magnet on the pot/pan to see if it sticks—can help determine if the pot/pan will work with induction (if it sticks, it will work!).  Typically, induction equipment is a bit more expensive, but the benefits can outweigh any negative aspect.

What’s the Right Answer?

Will an all-electric kitchen be the demise of a gas kitchen?  The answer is probably not.  Why?  Because right now it’s too cost prohibitive in certain circumstances and the required infrastructure might need to be upgraded and sized properly to accommodate the electric equipment.  But the answer could simply be to use a mix of gas and electric equipment (if applicable).  We can begin to reduce our carbon emissions by using induction equipment and also high efficiency gas equipment.

There is no single right answer to the question of electric vs gas.  Instead, you need to look at the parameters of the building, the jurisdiction requirements, the associated costs, how you plan to use the kitchen, what you plan to serve, how you can make reductions across the board and have a design solution that works well into the future.

By:  Marleen St. Marie, Project Manager | New York

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