Imagine this: you’re a chef or cook in a high-stress commercial kitchen setting. You’re making split second decisions with little breathing room, and each quick decision can get you cut or burned. On top of that, you’re in over 100-degree heat, breathing in toxic air from your gas stovetop.
This is an experience Chris Galarza could relate to, from working as a professional chef in various commercial settings. After making the switch to an all-electric kitchen utilizing induction equipment at Chatham University’s Eden Hall campus (the world’s first fully self-sustained university campus), he witnessed the positive difference in the physical and mental health of himself and his staff. He now advocates for electric cooking being a much healthier, safer, cost-effective, and energy-efficient option.
In this episode, Kelly and Chris talk through some electric-kitchen-myth-busting, and ultimately answer the question “is moving away from gas and fire in the kitchen really that radical an idea or does it just make perfect sense?”
Episode Guest: Christopher Galarza
Chef Christopher Galarza is the Owner and Culinary Sustainability Consultant at Forward Dining Solutions, LLC. Chris founded his company in hopes to educate the world about the electrification of kitchen systems and alternative cooking technologies, and to push sustainable cooking practices into the mainstream consciousness. Chris sits on the Advisory Board for Pittsburgh Technical College’s Culinary Program, is a Member of La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, and currently is working with Interface Engineering on a project for Microsoft!
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Buildings and Beyond is a production of Steven Winter Associates. We provide energy, green building, and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. For more information, visit www.swinter.com.
Welcome to buildings and beyond.
The podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment,
by focusing on efficiency, accessibility, and health.
I’m Robb Aldrich.
and I’m Kelly Westby.
I may not be the person that changes the world, but I hope to inspire the person that can.
That was chef Chris Galarza. I happened across Chris virtually after my colleague, Karla and his friend, Rachelle Boucher at Kitchens to Life presented a cooking demonstration for residential induction cooking. Seeing Chris’s impressive background and passion for sustainable food prep, I knew we had to have him on the podcast. Chef Chris is a culinary sustainability consultant and the owner of Foward Dining Solutions. Chris holds a bachelor’s degree in culinary management by age 23, Chris was acting chef at Monterey Bay fish grotto. The number one seafood restaurant in Pittsburgh. He has been opening sous chef for off the hook. The catering chef for Carnegie Mellon university and was chosen over thousands as one of 12 culinary apprentices at the prestigious Green Briar resort. Chris then helped create and lead the kitchen at Chatham university’s Eden hall campus.
Which is the first fully self-sustained university campus in the world. And it has one of America’s first, all electric kitchens, boasting induction ranges, electric flat tops, electric ovens, steamers, tilt skillets. You think it, you name it. We got it. We had a farm that had 30 plus acres in cultivation. We tapped our own trees for maple syrup, raised our own bees and trout, our own orchard mushrooms. We did everything we could, and it was a culinary playground If you will.
Chris is now dedicated to creating sustainable culinary playgrounds for other chefs across the country, but he wasn’t always so focused on sustainability.
My journey through sustainability, kind of the seeds were planted in culinary school when my professor, her name was Sally Fry. And I say her name because she was the one that even brought up the term sustainability, what it means, how important it is. And I thought it was a, it was a cool thing as like a fad, like, okay, cool. That’s really cool. Trying to give back to the earth. I get it. And then when I got to Chatham university, I really fell in love with the concepts, with what it took to be sustainable, how important it was. You know, I developed my own definition of sustainability. Like what it meant to me. And to me, sustainability is to give back to the earth as much as you take from it. And right now that’s not happening. So I tried to try to use up the ingredients as best I could try to compost everything we could. If something was deemed trash, try to find another life for it. And from there just embracing the electric kitchen, which at first I was hesitant about. And now, I mean, obviously it’s inspired me to create my own consulting company where, you know, although we consult on any, any number of projects on regular gas kitchens, I really love to consult and push people towards the electric kitchens. There’s no real experts out there on the commercial sense. So I’m hoping to help nudge the culinary landscape in that direction. And what also helped inspired this, I guess, business is that I’ve had people reach out and ask me questions about what it takes to run an electric kitchen. What is an electric kitchen? How do you work in this space that really is foreign to the Americans. And then through research, finding out that most of the world is already on board. So I started seeing a gap in knowledge where American chefs are behind their European, Australian and Asian counterparts because they’re using these technologies that they’ve had it for over a decade, almost two decades in some, in some places. And at some point like American chefs are going to start becoming less desired where we once were the gold standard. So it was a combination of all those things that helped lead me to the path where this is important.
That’s awesome. That’s a great sentiment. And I love what you mentioned about using up everything you can in the kitchen. I think it speaks to sustainability in a different way, but it’s definitely the angle that I personally have felt attracted me to sustainability. You know, why are we wasting so many things? How can we cut waste? So I’d love if you could give everybody an example, just to see us in your chef hat, a little bit of where you reused sort of something that other people thought was, was waste.
So I’ll go real quick to when, when I used to teach kids, I used to teach a bunch of high school kids who would come through once a year to the campus. And we would have this one day where they were going to the garden, they’d pick all the produce, they’d bring it to me. I’d clean it and make sure it’s all ready to go. And I would teach them a three hour course in how to identify fresh fish, how to break down fresh fish and what to do with it. So we would break down this fish, you would have this carcass and most people would just throw away. What I did was I made a, I made a fish stock. And then while they were, you know, while we were going through the class, the fish stock was going, I took their vegetable scraps that would also thrown away toss that into the fish stock. While the fish stock was continuing to simmer, we cooked their meal, they’d sit down and eat, I’d at that point, have them collect their scraps, bring it up. We would discuss what you can do with the fish stock. We can just have them smell it, look at it, identify the characteristics of a good stock and then have them taste it and how bland it could be possibilities of what, of what it could be. And then we would strain it and it make soup with it. So in that one, three hour class, I’d show them how to take this, this animal who for all intensive purposes died and we’re lucky enough to receive those nutrients. And it’s incumbent on us to make sure that that animal has the utmost respect and is used to the fullest extent of our ability. So we were able to eat its flesh. We were able to make a broth from their bones, instead of throwing out the leftovers, turning into soup and having another meal with it. So that fish sustained us for two, three different meals. And that’s kinda like the best example of using up these ingredients that will be tossed away. Other things we’ve done is pickled pineapple stems or pineapple cores rather it pickles. It pickles fantastic, you wouldn’t think so, but it breaks down the, the fiberous core. It has an amazing crunch. It’s sweet. It’s acidic. It’s fantastic. And then from there we’ve also turned like carrot peels and, you know, leftover stuff from like near par soup production and we grind that up and pickle that, and then we’d have, you know, a relish. Yeah. So there’s a million things you can do with with food.
Yeah, that’s so great. I always feel guilty throwing things away. So I recently we made Apple peel chips and they were absolutely delicious. So you’ve definitely inspired me. I never knew what to do with pineapple cores. So there you go.
I’ve also made a salmon crackers from salmon skin. That was a lot of fun. You take the skin, dehydrate it, you fry it. And, and really about 400 degrees Fahrenheit and it puffs up like a cracker.
Nice. All of those sound delicious. And I think when people think of you know, sustainability, that would be perfectly aligned with chefs, it would be kind of using all of the ingredients. Not that everybody does, but of course, it’s more cost-effective for you. But one thing that I think that the sustainability industry has always maybe touted as kind of oppositional with the culinary industry is the electric kitchen. So just like you talked about, the induction stove top and can you get a little bit more into your experience with that? What was your hesitation? What was your, what was your perception of it before you started working at Chatham? And then how did you come to kind of learn to use it, to to use it with your staff, you know, to make the same quality or maybe even better food in some ways?
Sure. Yeah. So going into Chatham, my perception of electric cooking was what we all think of initially is those coils that take forever to get hot. That just don’t, it takes forever to cook food. It slows down everything, things burn it’s, it’s just a terrible, terrible piece of equipment. It’s God awful. I remember getting into apartments when I was a kid and being like ugh electric, and that wasn’t even cooking. It was just so bad that like I knew, and, you know, I knew a little bit about induction because of, you know, being in the industry you’d come across, like the bake shop would have a little induction, you know, hob that you would plug in and take it wherever you, wherever you want. But it was never something that like we used continuously or we use religiously. It was just a novel thing that you can just take anywhere you want instead of having butane or anything like that. And that was cool. But that, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I had no idea what it does, how fast it does. So I was like, okay, well, you know, never one to shy away from a challenge. I said, all right, well, we’re going to make this happen. We’re going to figure out what we can do. And you know, not a problem, whenever it gets installed, we’re going to get trained on it anyway. So we’re all good. So the kitchen gets built. We go into the kitchen, talking to the rep, he’s trying to show us how it works. She’s like, all right, here’s a knob, turn it on and turn off and make sure your pans are magnetic. I’m okay. Is there anything else you need to know? And he said, this he’s like, Hey man, I just sell it. I don’t know how this stuff works. Really. You know, you figure it out you’re the expert. I was like, great. And that was the notion we got from every one of our vendors on every one of the pieces of equipment. You turn it on, you use it. What else do you want? I don’t really know. Like I just sell it. So that was the first big hurdle, is how do we learn to work with it? And we learned to work with it fast because you know, I’m supposed to be leading this kitchen. And none of my staff is really classically trained or anything like that. So we’re like, okay, I need to figure it out and act like, I know what I’m doing.
Fake it till you make it.
Yeah. Right. So first thing I realized is how fast the induction unit works. So our instinct is to get in the kitchen, put our pan on the burner, crank it on high, and then, you know, go do what we had to do while the pan gets hot so we can start cooking. And so that’s exactly what I did. I get in the kitchen, get a big pot going, oil, put some garlic in there, crank it on high, turn around, before I can grab my onions, I turn back around and it’s completely burnt. Like black, not even like Brown, it’s black. And I was like, Oh, wow, that really fast. And then we started doing some tests whenever we had downtime. How fast is the boil water? How fast does this work? How fast does this work? Is this okay? Is this not okay? And we started to piece together do’s and don’ts while using induction, we started kind of dispelling our own myths that we had come up with. You know, while we were imagining what this induction kitchen was going to be, because when we got in there, it was August of 2015, and the kitchen didn’t get built until, well we didn’t move until April of 2016. So we had some time to just kind of imagine what it would be, do some research. And we kinda were all apprehensive. And then after working with it for a little bit, we realized that this is definitely superior to what we were doing, but I’d stay late and, you know, practice different things and, you know, just observe what the staff were doing. And then we would kind of get together a lunchtime, talk about it. And then from there we kind of just taught each other how to, how it works. And then I would start training them on things I’ve read and things I saw. And over the time we just made it work. And then over the time we just fell in love with it, to the point where that we would go help another account and It would almost feel snobbish walking in like, “Oh, you’re still using gas?” Because we will put the pan on and crank it on high and it would take so much longer to get hot so we can start cooking what we need to cook. It was kind of like when you’re used to driving a Ferrari and then you’ve got to drive a Honda civic, like that’s how it felt.
Yeah. And that was one thing in in Karla and Rachelle’s demonstration, and she calls herself an electric kitchen super fan, which maybe you would call yourself as well.
New Speaker (13:59):
Oh for sure. and Rachelle is Awesome.
Yeah. It’s so good that, that, it’s such a, it’s a small community of people electric kitchen, super fans across the country. That’s very fun.
Yeah. So Rachelle and I, just through talking, we realized that, like, she and I are two peas in a pod. We love this stuff to the degree. She’s an expert in residential equipment. And I’ve never been a personal chef outside of what I did for president Sheresh at Carnegie Mellon, but I prep everything in my own kitchen and bring it up and just we’d warm it up. So I know everything there is to know about commercial cooking. And if you put me into trying to talk about appliances for residential, wouldn’t know what’s going on and vice versa. So we’ve been, we’ve been kind of like trying to build each other up because there’s no one else doing what we’re doing. So I love that woman to death.
That’s great. Yeah. And I watched the episode she did with, with Karla from our office. And she had a demonstration with boiling water and talked a little bit about you can’t turn the pot on and then turn around and do your chopping, and then throw the thing in you. You have to turn it on right when you’re ready to use it. Cause it goes up so quick, you turn your garlic into waste. Usually, you know, there’s this sense of the chef’s world and everything so hot and it’s a little bit dangerous and and things are flying and things are on fire. And in this situation, it’s a lot less hot in the kitchen. And there’s a few other reasons why it’s actually a little bit better in a lot of ways for your staff. And that’s something that you’ve been thoughtful about in terms of sustainability of of your staff and turnover.
Yeah. There is significant dangers in working in a professional kitchen that I didn’t notice until we switched over. So there’s a significant concentration of carbon monoxide inside a traditional kitchen, it can exceed 200 parts per million. If you’re outdoors, you’re at two and a half parts per million at most, if it reaches a certain point that it’s like the federal standards is like nine parts per million is maximum. After that everyone’s indoors. There’s something wrong in the kitchen, we exceed 200 parts per million that is incredibly dangerous. And we do that day in and day out 12, 14, 16, 18 hours a day. You know, that’s, that’s dangerous, you know, with these flames accidents happen, I’ve seen towels catch on fire, aprons, catch on fire. There’s a risk there that you wouldn’t have. And then as you mentioned it is also incredibly hot.
You have this ambient heat because what’s happening is you are trying to force these these slabs of metal to get hot by throwing fire at it until it decides to accept that thermal energy and get hot. But what happens to the flame? What happens to that heat that wasn’t accepted by the pan? It gets wicks off the sides and goes into the atmosphere. It goes into the kitchen, goes into your space, and then you become incredibly hot. I’ve been in kitchens where I checked my thermometer and it’s reading 130 degrees in my pocket, you know, in my arm pocket. You know, we’ve been in this might be TMI, but there’ll be, there’ll be moments where we would be in, in the rush. We get to the rush. We all go upstairs to try to like cool down. You know, some of us would even throw up and then go back down to work because it would be so hot. Your body can’t, can’t handle it for too long. And that’s the environment that most chefs work in, that that’s the reality.
And that they assume they HAVE to work in because that’s their trade.
And then when i got to Chatham, this electric kitchen, here comes winter. Never really worried about it. I’ve worked in kitchens where I’d be in a beanie during winter, because why not? You’re comfortable. And we’re all in winter coats and gloves while we’re working, because it’s working so efficiently, we’re cold. We’d have to figure out ways to keep the kitchen warmer. That’s how stark the differences. We’ve actually had data from my kitchen. I’m looking to pull that up now where the ambient temperature never reached above 72 degrees. That’s the hottest it got. And that was in September. When we’re talking about eliminating waste, when we’re talking about nothing gets thrown out, that includes our heat. So the heat that comes off of the pan that, that comes off of the food, that goes into the hood systems gets captured, gets mixed with a food grade, propylene glycol. And that’s what warms the building. So yeah, so don’t even throw away our heat.
That’s amazing. And I think that speaks to, you know, you, weren’t just looking at your components within the kitchen itself and obviously who had an all electric kitchen, but you were brought in, as the chef were brought into the discussions with the building engineer and operators and occupants to talk about how can we look at this holistically? And I remember you mentioning being brought into discussions with the engineering team about how much energy you energy the kitchen was using and what you could do together to work together, to reduce it.
Yeah. So we would talk on on a weekly basis on how much water we were using, the energy we were using comparatively to the solar energy that we were creating. We would have these discussions on how much water is being used in the kitchen. We’d use about 1500 gallons a week, when things were slow how to get that number down, what we were doing to curtail that, what our practices were, and we realized some pitfalls in how we were working. So most kitchens, you would go and grab something out of the freezer, thaw it out under cold water. And we’d realize that when we do that, we’d add X amount of water into the system because we also cleaned our own water. So if we’re just dumping water into the system, one is diluting the microorganisms that we’re using to help clean our water. And two, we have nowhere to store that water or get rid of that water. So we had to be really strategic in how we worked which is another hurdle that we had. And this isn’t, you know, average. We were probably, I don’t know of any kitchen that does it. I don’t know of any chef that knows water and energy consumption that they had. And those are the conversations that we had on a weekly basis over the years fine tuning it. And it was a whole other world. You know, you go to culinary school, you have these dreams of being a chef working for, you know, whoever it is you admire and that you never realized that like, you’re going to be mostly in an office. And at some point probably talking to somebody about water and energy, but it was, it was exciting to learn all this stuff. I was just in this bubble and I was just enjoying and soaking as much of it up as possible. It was just so much knowledge in that place. And so much knowledge in this world that we’re living in with, with people who are discussing sustainability, people who are awake to the fact that the way things were needs to be changed, needs to be adapted, needs to be updated, you know?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think we’ve talked about this. There’s a sense in, you know, in the culinary industry at similar, probably to the sense that I get from, or that we get that we run into sometimes from the construction industry of you know, we’ve been doing it this way for 25 years or 50 years, and why would we change it now? Like if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Oh, I’m so tired of people saying that.
Yeah. People are stuck in that, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The problem with that is people who think that way, never look to see if there’s something that could be done better, right? I’ve never talked to somebody who said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it who actually actively looks at their base of operations and tries to figure out what’s the most efficient way to run things. If there’s any technology out there to make them more efficient, make them more cost-effective. No, I’ve never seen anyone do that. Esssentially what they’re saying is this is the way I do it because I’m comfortable doing it. I don’t care about anything else. I’m just comfortable doing it this way. And that may work for some people in some industries. But when you are producing food, when you are in charge of a large group of people, you know, and you are watching them sit in this uncomfortably, hot kitchen, breathing in methane day in and day out. And you realize that, because most chefs don’t realize that, you’re like, why am I putting my chefs in this death pit, to take it a little bit extreme, because there can be, there’s a much better way out there. And as, as a business owner, you’re always looking for a way to, to kind of, you know, pinch a penny. And If I come to you and I say, Hey, I can save you so much money on your, on your overhead simply by switching your equipment from gas to electric, you will now increase how much food you could put out at any given time, because the equipment now works faster, your chefs are now more comfortable in the kitchen, therefore you have less conflict which could potentially mean that you have lower turnover. You are now not paying as much in your utilities because on average an electric kitchen runs at 50%, the efficiency of a gas kitchen, which means if you’re paying a hundred dollars, for instance, say, you’re paying a thousand dollars for your, for your gas bill. You’re not paying $500 for your electric bill. You know, that’s, that’s kinda like what, they’re, what, what they’re saying. It costs a lot less money to run, and you will now no longer have to buy harsh chemicals to clean, hot soapy water, cleans everything. You, you essentially reduce the overall time of cleaning, which means your employees are now leaving early. And if I tell you that you can save all this money immediately, why wouldn’t you do it? Yeah. The people who say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When they’re presented with these facts, that’s when the real answer or the real reason comes out. I don’t like that. That’s not the way we do things. That’s not the way I’ve done things. And that’s really what it comes down to is that people are uncomfortable with change.
Yeah. Maybe that is broken actually. You know, when we take a step back that that is a major problem. And so thinking about, can we provide holistic solutions that check a lot of different boxes? And we’ve talked about this too. You know, employee engagement is something that’s very critical in the in the consulting world. It’s obviously very critical for you. I’m curious from your staff at Chatham or, or in your experience, do you have any anecdotal evidence or, or otherwise about turnover or retention rates with relation to you know, comfort in a kitchen?
Well, so that’s twofold. So as far as like my own turnover, we had low turnover. I mean, we were a small campus and I had staff that was there from most of my tenure there. I was there for five years and I probably had to hire maybe five or six new people over the time that I was there. We had people who wanted to stay because it was a laid back environment. It was a comfortable environment. People got along. And I think that a lot to do with thermal comfort in the kitchen. And actually ASHRAE came out with a study that went to tackle this, this exact question, thermal comfort in the commercial kitchen. And they have the number of kitchens that are in the what they would call like the optimal zone is far fewer than the kitchens that are beyond that. And they studied it over the winter months and in summer months and they, and they broke it down through cooking preparation and dishwashing, and you’d be surprised at how many kitchens go beyond hundred degrees Fahrenheit. And it’s just, it’s an uncomfortable environment. You know, I often say like, it takes a certain kind of crazy to enjoy what we do, because you are put into a hellish landscape, it’s usually a high stress environment, fast paced environment and there’s little room for air. You’re working with fire and sharp knives, and it’s all happening in breakneck speed. You gotta make these split second decisions that can either cause you to get burned or cut all in an effort to feed another human being and to enjoy that you gotta be crazy, right? I mean, I enjoy it, but like, it’s a unique environment that most people would not understand or want to be a part of. It’s it’s just tough. And if this technology that’s coming out, this induction technology that’s in America that we are able to harness right now can make the environment easier. Imagine how much more we could do if we are able to keep our staff comfortable. Do you think, you know, arguments would break out as much? Probably not. People are more comfortable, they’re more relaxed. There’s, there’s a number of different factors that are changed just by switching out a single piece of equipment. I’ve never came across anything in the kitchen that by making one change can lead to a cascade of positive effects.
Thinking about kind of that triple bottom line, there are benefits immediately in terms of cost reduction. And there are benefits in terms of employee turnover, which is a cost reduction and, and health and wellness of your staff and and something that’s good for the environment as well. And that actually, obviously from the folks, generally listening to this podcast, the all electric movement is is sort of an obvious path forward, but thinking about thermal comfort in in most office spaces and things like that, I think people are talking about a little bit more now. But that’s so interesting in terms of, you know, when you have a space that’s very uncomfortable, how does that impact the interaction between human beings in the space? That is definitely something that I haven’t thought a lot about. So that’s really interesting.
I’ve, I’ve joked with friends. Like I want somebody to do a study on the effects, on mental health from a traditional kitchen to an all electric space and seeing what the implications are, because it takes a toll on you to work in a place like that. And then to turn around and go to another place in the same environment, doing the same thing that you love, except that it’s much more comfortable. It’s much safer. I feel like it’s got to be a stark difference. I know it’s helped me a lot. I used to be, you know, a traditional chef, right. The hothead, and now I’m a completely different person. I’m much more relaxed.
We’ll have to check with your wife about that.
That’s part two of the podcast.
That’ll be part 2. So Chris, we talked about some of the benefits of electric cooktops. You don’t have that carbon monoxide that you get from gas burning, but obviously there’s still particulates and other emissions that come off just from heating up oil and cooking itself, and that needs to be exhausted. I know you have a sophisticated hood system. Can you tell us a little bit about that hood system and then kind of the economics of that for you and where you saw savings potentially over the long term?
Absolutely. So, yeah, so we, we had a Holton Marvel hood system and what was unique about that hood system that it had all these sensors, these little tiny pinprick holes that would just blow out air all the time. And there was a whole control panel with touchscreen. It just, it seemed like it was insane. But after really working with it, you get to realize the, the genius that went behind the creation of that system. So let’s start with the pinpricks. So the pinpricks around that are constantly blowing air. What that does is it creates a more efficient, positive and negative pressure to help more efficiently pull any grease, any smoke, any, any heat from the area immediately out. And it knows to do that because it turns on and off based on our own usage. So it knows to do that, because it has these little sensors that are constantly scanning the cooktop. So in a sense, is the temperature going up? It knows, okay, theyre going to be doing something let’s kick on the hood system accordingly. And then it starts to suck up what we’re doing, like we’re seeing this piece of salmon. Once the internal duct work reaches, whatever we deemed the temperature range to be say, 70 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when it really turned on and got everything out of there. From there, once everything was gone from the space, it turned itself off. And that was it. So what happened beyond that is that it kept sucking it up. And instead of expelling it out into the atmosphere, it captured that heat captured that a waste, if you will mixed it with a food grade propylene glycol as I discussed, sent down to the, to the, to the tanks where we then had the 55 degrees Fahrenheit propylene glycol coming up from the geothermal wells, and then we would run the warmed propylene glycol over that pipe and bringing that up to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and all that was really cool.
And what was, to me, the thing that like made it like go from cool to essential was that we spent $300,000 on that system and a comparable system, a traditional hood system would cost a hundred thousand dollars. Why that’s important is that because we were projected to pay it off in 14 months through energy efficiency alone. So just by not using it as much, because it knew when to turn itself on and off, we were supposed to pay it off in a little over a year. The reality of the situation was that we paid it off in nine months. Wow. So this piece of equipment that costs over a quarter million dollars, we paid off in nine months just because we weren’t working it. And for those listeners who don’t understand how hood system works, first chef walks in say, it’s five, 6:00 AM. They turn on all the lights to turn on the hood system and it stays on until the last person leaves, so continuously. And if you have a 24 hour operation, your hood systems stay on for 24 hours, seven days a week nonstop. With this technology, What we’re able to do is if you walk away from it, the hood system stops. So you are not paying for that energy. You’re not paying for the machine being used, which means the machine’s not working nonstop. You’re not replacing parts as much. You’re not paying for all that energy, you’re saving money and that’s how we’re able to pay it off. So people use the price tag a lot of times for this technology to say why they shouldn’t do it again. People who don’t like change, tend to find all sorts of excuses as to why they shouldn’t get it. But in reality, they’re just that they’re baseless. And it sounds harsh to say, but it’s true.
Yeah. And absolutely. And I think once you once you see the results for yourself, it becomes much more obvious that that was the right choice, right? Circling us back to the induction cooktops for induction. I know a lot of people are resistant to it. We kind of, we briefly mentioned some of that resistance earlier and some of the myths that maybe you’ve busted over time. So I know we all have a love of Myth Busters. So let’s jump into that a little bit. What kind of some of the things, you know, people talk about all the time, like well, I’m going to have to replace all of the pots and pans and everything to work with an induction stove. What have you found?
So what have I found? I found that that’s more than often true, and that’s not a negative. So you have to make sure that your pots and pans are magnetic. So yeah. They tend to cost a little bit more, but again, the return is where is where you really see the benefits. So traditional pans, a lot of people get the cheap pans or, you know, when you put it on these flames over time, they start to work. They start to not sit flat, they start to teeter over a bit. And then eventually, have this black soot that gets built up over time as carbon on the outside of the pan. After a while you throw out the pan buy a new one. What I’ve found is that that usually happens anywhere between two to five years. You just get all new pants. It just, it is what it is. It’s, it’s cost of doing business. But I found with induction is again, after using it for five years, I have my exact same set of pants, no warping, no carbon, no needing to replace them. They’re pristine, they’re brand new. And cost of those pans essentially paid for themselves because in the time I’ve had those pants, I would have had to replace them at least once by now.
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s a great point that I hadn’t heard before. You know, you do have to replace some, if not all of them in the beginning, but that they’ll last longer once you do just based on the type.
And if you’re not sure, grab a magnet, toss it on there. If it sticks, you’re good to go. Cast iron is an incredible partner to work with when using induction. It is heavy. It retains heat. It’s magnetic. You can toss it in the oven, you can put it on whatever you want. It works fantastic. So if you use primarily cast iron, then you don’t have to do anything. Your pans are already set for induction. If you’re using aluminum or, or, you know, things like that, you’re not, you’re going to need to replace them.
Great. And you talked a little bit about the surface. When we spoke before I know people have concerns about, okay, what happens there may be used to previous kind of electric cooktops where the service would, would crack pretty regularly. Obviously that would be a big issue with an induction system. I know, you know, there’s you had mentioned things getting thrown and towels catching on fire. And so I assume things are pretty crazy in, in the commercial kitchen. How has the cooktop fared kind of through all of that?
So and I actually put this into my presentation that I do when I speak with architectural and engineering firms and prospective clients. Is that when you think of the glass top, you’re thinking glass that you have in your home or you’re thinking tempered glass. The problem is that those aren’t true temper glass over time will, will crack or warp. What induction units use is a tempered ceramic glass, which is significantly stronger and more resistant to warping. I have had giant stock pots on my stove top for, you know, days on end, not a crack, not a scratch. I slip sliding pots and pans around to make room for what I need to do again. No problem. They’re very strong. They won’t warp, and I can send you a picture of my, the actual, the actual glass top that I have. It is not a scratch on it. They’re very, very durable. You’d have to take a sledgehammer to it. If you want to crack it, I’ve had other people ask you know, what’s the point you can’t Sautee on it. You know induction cooking exaggerates speed. Let’s jump into that a little bit. So the first one is you can’t sauté on induction because once you take the pan off of the unit, it is no longer connected to the heat. Also chefs love to preheat their pants for sautéing first off. Absolutely true. When you take the pan off, you’re no longer connected to the heat. Just like when you take the pan off the flame, you’re no longer touching the flame, pan still hot. Also chefs love to preheat their pans for sautéing because fire doesn’t get the pan hot enough, fast enough. Induction does. So there’s no need to preheat. And I actually have a video up on YouTube where I have a cold pan. I take a thermometer to it’s reading in the sixties. I toss, you know peppers in it. I turn it on to high in literally 10 seconds. It’s sautéing. So, yeah, and then there’s definitely linked to that. So there’s also people say that induction cooking is exaggerating, it doesn’t get hot as fast. And it’s, it’s all a bunch of marketing BS. Again, I have another video online where I put a pot of water on crank it on high in about 30 seconds a minute. It’s already simmering getting ready to go into a roaring boil. When I’ve had I had the Pennsylvania legislature out to campus, we were doing a tour and I was explaining how the technology works. I put a pot of ice on cranked it on high. And as I was talking to them, explaining how it worked about this is from ice in about four minutes or so it melted in and it was boiling. And I feel like I’m a little bit remiss. I just realized that we were talking about induction and all that stuff, and I really prope never rly explained what induction is all about. So do you mind if I explain that real fast for your listeners? So in the way induction works is if you think about a piece of, if you think about your microwave at home, it uses these tiny little waves to, to oscillate mater molecules in your food at such a high rate of speed that it creates heat from the inside, out, cooking your food. What we’re doing with induction is we’re using electromagnetic current to oscillate the Ferris molecules in the pan to essentially make the pan that the heating element. And that’s essentially induction in a nutshell, it, the beauty of induction is that, you know, when you’re using gas, when you turn it on high, everything around that surface is now hot. With induction, what only gets hot is the pan and what the pain is touching. So you put your hand all around it and it doesn’t, it’s not hot at all. And because of how the tempered ceramic glass is, is made it cools down very quickly.
Yeah, absolutely. And that actually brings me to an interesting photo that sticks in my mind from Rachelle again to go back to that is she has a plastic squirt bottle right next to a pan that’s on, on an induction stove. And I, and I thought to myself in the past, I’ve definitely taken, you know, bread out of a plastic bag or something. And then it starts to burn from, and, you know, God knows what’s coming off coming out of that plastic burning inside my house. So thinking about safety, especially for clumsy people like me you know, putting things close to that, obviously the pan will still be hot, so be careful.
But because of the way that metal is, you know, the reason metal is such a great conductor is that those the molecules are lined up in a linear structure. So energy can flow through it with ease, which is why it conducts electricity very well, which is why it gets hot very well, which is also why it gets cool very quickly.
So you’ve gone from chef to electrical engineer and a chemist
Yeah, I wear many hats. What’s, what’s fascinated me and kept, kept my love for food alive is actually the science of cooking. I find that much more fascinating than actually cooking. Obviously I love cooking. That’s my first love. Don’t tell my wife that, but what I love about cooking is understanding the chemical processes that are happening. What’s what’s happening the thermal, like from taking a piece of chicken from raw to cooked, there’s so much going on in that, in that span. Theres a whole nother world. If you look past the actual food itself you know, people talk about molecular gastronomy, which is if you ever see those, you know, chefs making like caviar out of whatever that term got coined for those things, but really molecular gastronomy is a study of like, what happens to food like during the cooking phase. So from its raw state to its cooked state, and that’s what I’ve fallen in love with. It’s true molecular gastronomy. And when you’re talking about induction, it allows you to look beyond the food and now look at the equipment and understand what’s happening and how you can maximize the equipment to make it work for you and make it, and I’ll make your kitchen much more efficient.
Yeah. I was interested to see that the Atlantic ran an article all about electric kitchens and, and pros and cons. And talking about proper ventilation of kitchens, you don’t normally see our nerdy information and kind of a major publication and New York times talking about it. And so they talked a little bit, there was a chef that said induction is okay, but you can’t, you can’t do wok cooking in, in an induction stove. And that was one thing that you mentioned. So that was the, the myth I wanted to circle back to and end on, especially for folks maybe who have just read that article and are left wondering.
I appreciate you bringing that up. They were absolutely right a few years ago. The problem with that is that these companies want to get into America. So they are going to make any advancements that they can to get into this market. So when chefs say it’s not good for wok cooking, guess what they created induction woks. So now, instead of having a flat surface, it’s a surface that fits perfectly a wok. So now you can have that wok hay, which walk hay essentially is this level of heat that you reach when you’re cooking with woks, where the bottom is the hottest. And as you go up to the top, you have different levels of temperature. So you can build your dishes up that way. So if you ever see someone working with a walk, they’ll start cooking in the center and then start pushing the food up to the side because it has various different temperatures that they can finish up those ingredients as they’re doing whatever they’re doing down on the bottom. But yeah, so they have that and if there’s anything else that people are coming up with to say that it doesn’t work well for that, these companies are going to fix that. But yeah, we’re working with a company with the Microsoft project that I’m a part of that created a wok just for them specifically for their food, for their kitchen and design, they’ve tested it and they loved it. And I was one of the things that was instrumental in having them go towards a hundred percent induction.
And that’s excellent for looping us back to your story a little bit. So you were a chef at Chatham and then you started to convert to this consultant role. So tell us a little bit about how you made that transition.
So how this happened was completely by accident. So I was working, it was September of 2018 I believe that Microsoft reached out and I talked to their chefs, their chief sustainability officer and they asked like, Hey we’re working with an engineering company that coincidentally also built your campus, but they’ve been pushing us to do this electric cooking. And we did a little bit of digging and found you. And we wanted to kinda, you know, ask you your opinion, you know, unbiased. They said, we’re not on board, but we kind of want unbiased opinion. So we’re going around to just find out what is the truth about this stuff? And is it, and is it worth it? So I had a conversation with them was about one hour I shared with them, you know, everything I’ve been sharing with you guys, how much, how much we love it, how much I fall in love with the equipment, how much it’s changed my life for the better personally, like I’ve, it’s changed my outlook on how I view this world. But regardless of that, like when working with it share with them, you know, serial number, model numbers, who made what pictures of what everything was, what we do with it, samples of menus, everything. And we talked about it for about an hour and they said, okay, thank you very much. I appreciate it. And that was it. I didn’t hear from them at all. And then you know, we go on Thanksgiving break. I come back and like Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving I get a call or I get an email from Hormoz Janssens from, from, from interface engineering. And he wanted to thank me for the Microsoft conversation. I said, sure. Yeah. He’s like, yeah, I heard that there was a chat between you and Katie Ross at Microsoft and the team about induction. And I want to thank you because one, one hour conversation with you, they’ve committed to going all electric.
I said, that’s fantastic news. Thank you. And he’s like, well, you don’t understand. We’ve been trying for three years to get them to do this. And you talked for them for one hour. I was like, okay. He’s like, would you be interested in consulting for us for other projects? We have Stanford university. We have, LinkedIn’s been interested. We have a bunch of different places that have been interested. And the problem with that is that they’ll say, okay, you’re thinking about pushing us towards electric. Can you get me an expert to talk to so we can talk through our concerns. And he’s like, the problem is there is no expert to talk to. So, you know, you are in the right place at the right time, would you like to do this? And I said, absolutely. You know, it’s something that I enjoy talking about and I enjoy educating. So let’s do this. So I, I created Forward Dining Solutions, where, you know, it was essentially my own little consulting firm just to help out, you know, Interface. And, you know, at some point maybe I’ll do something with it. And, you know, I started thinking about a lot more, January rolls around and I get the ball rolling on this. June, I get, you know, my EIN number and everything. I’m like, wow, I really do have a business. This is crazy. And a week before my 30th birthday, I get that contract for the Microsoft project. I sign it, I send it in and I’m like, wow, I’m officially in business. And after that, I’m like, this is what I want to do. Like, I had so much fun talking with Microsoft, talking with interface, we’ve been doing, you know these presentations at NBBJ and WRNs, you know, and like other places like that and getting people all excited. And every time we go do one of these presentations it’s always kind of shocking because I’ll talk to, you know, whoever is our contact. And then me and Steve gross, who’s the the associate principal and senior energy analyst at, at interface. He and I will go in, he’s like, Hey man, like, this is crazy. Like this, this is a huge group. We’re doing it for like 300 people. I’m like, okay, cool. He’s like, and then the person would come in and say, Hey, just so you know the owners of the company essentially are going to be here. They really want her to do this. They’re all excited. And they’ll say, this is by far the largest group we’ve ever had. And it consistently happens everywhere we go, which isn’t toot my own horn and say, Oh, they’re excited to talk about stuff that I’m taught that like, I’m passionate about. No, it’s to say that this movement, this conversation on induction cooking, on kitchen electrification is a huge topic. It’s something that people are struggling with with their own accounts. That like, this is the best way forward, but people don’t want to do because there’s no nothing proven out there. So I’m excited to help bring people on board and show people that this stuff really works. And I’m excited to be on the ground floor to do it. It’s just, I get really jazzed up about it. So I’m hoping that, you know, I can do this full-time I can do this and really make a change. I’ve reached out to other podcasts. We’re going to be just trying to get the word out, because this is a topic that isn’t going anywhere. San Francisco starting June 1st, there will be no gas allowed in new construction period. Berkeley has done it. Oakland has done it. San Jose has done it. There’s talks about changing legislation in Massachusetts. So they, so they can pass these laws to ban gas. This is coming, there’s no stopping it. The exciting part is, do you want to be against it and really slow things down? Or do you want to be able to really steer these policies, steer this technology where it ought to be? Do you want to be part of the people who are being responsible? Not for just the environment, but what is best for our industry. And that’s where I want to be. You know, I want to, like, I sit on the advisory board for Pittsburgh Technical College. And I talk to these chefs, these young chefs about what’s out there. And, you know, I talk to them about what they want to do. And I hear, I want to go, you know, to France and work, you know, for a few Michelin star restaurants and bounce around. And after working at the Green Briar, you know, for that caliber of cooking, I can tell you that when you get there, they’ll give you one day of training. You know, they’ll say, here’s, here’s the material, study it, you come in, someone will walk you through the kitchen, how the station works after that, you’re on your own. And if they have to train you on menu and everything like that on how everything works day to day, where things are, and now they have to teach you about how the equipment works, you’re not going to be a candidate for them because they don’t wanna have to teach you the basic stuff of how does induction work. They don’t have time for that. There’s a reason theyre the best in the world. And it’s not because they’re, hand-holding everybody. So I’m seeing these chefs who want to go to these places around the world. And I’m thinking to myself, they need to be aware of what’s out there and it can’t be burning garlic. So all these things are bouncing around in my head. And I’m just wondering, I hope I can make it. I hope I can make an impact. I hope I can make a dent in what’s going on out there because there’s so much riding on this. Not just, not the company, but electric cooking in general. I really do think that that’s, that’s the, the biggest piece. If we can get that hammered into, to America, that this is like not radical, it’s a sensible change then. I really do think we can make a huge difference.
Yeah, that’s incredible. We had a great conversation about where the industry is. And when we have you back on the podcast in five years, what will we be talking about then? So you spoke to a couple of things, but what do you think we’ll be talking about in five years?
Ooh, great question. We’ll be laughing about how insane it was to work in a hundred plus degree kitchens, sweating bullets in the middle of winter. And what we’re going to be excited about is the new wave of technology coming out.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s an excellent point. And I think thinking about translating our conversation from this can’t happen to, how can we make this happen, is going to be just so liberating in terms of how we can solve our future problems, whether they’re from employee engagement, from, you know, de-carbonization of the country or, or from our own personal health perspective, how can we change the conversation from, we can’t do this to, how can we make this happen? Thanks so much for coming on the podcast today, Chris.
Absolutely. Thank you so much. I had a blast.
Me too. Thank you for listening to buildings and beyond. To learn more about sustainable commercial kitchens. Check out our show notes at swinter.com/podcasts. Buildings and beyond is brought to you by Steven winter associates. We believe our world is not as sustainable, healthy, safe, equitable, or inclusive as it needs to be. We continually strive to develop and implement innovative solutions to improve the built environment. If you want to join us in our mission visit, swinter.com/careers. A big shout out to our production team, Jayd Alvarez, Dylan Martello, Alex Mirabile, Heather Breslin, and my cohost Robb Aldrich. We thank you for listening and we will see you next time.