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Home cooks explore induction

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Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
Induction cooktops save energy and can heat rapidly.

This is the first – and only – installment of “Kitchen Jeopardy 2021.”

What brings 48 ounces of water to boil in less than three minutes, saves energy and has cooktop surfaces that stay cool?

“What” is an induction hob or cooktop that is an eco-friendly alternative to gas.

With folks stressing about the reach codes banning gas and requiring new construction to be all-electric, induction cooking may be their salvation. Currently in Los Altos, gas cooking appliances and fireplaces are exempt from the rule for new single-family homes.

Los Altos builder Matt Kansky replied “very cool” when asked about induction cooktops.

“I try to talk people into them because they’re very safe, especially if they have young children learning to cook,” he said. “But people like those nice flames on their gas stoves. How much longer will this last?”

For the uninitiated, an induction cooktop is a cooking surface that heats by transferring currents from an electromagnetic field located beneath the glass surface directly to magnetic cookware. Unlike thermal conduction, it heats the cookware directly without flame or burner.

As you can imagine, it’s far more efficient to heat cookware directly instead of indirectly.

Induction delivers roughly 80-90% of its electromagnetic energy to the food in the pan. Gas burners waste energy by heating the surrounding air and the cooktop along with the food in the pan.

According to Forbes contributor Sheri Koones, a major difference between induction and other types of cooktops is the speed with which induction cooks.

This is among the reasons that many of the world’s top chefs are induction-cooking enthusiasts. Author/chef Thierry Molinengo of the Cristal Room Baccarat restaurant in

Paris is on record as saying, “Powerful, immediate, precise, effective, practical – here in a few words are the qualities of induction.”

Growing popularity

Ray Meyer of Meyer Appliance in Mountain View has seen an increase in sales of induction cooktops.

“They’re more accessible and their cost has become more in line with other appliances,” he said.

University Electric and Airport Home Appliance also have seen an uptick in sales.

Meyer points to the ease of cleanup and safety factors as well as the speed.

“You turn it on, it’s on. You turn it off, it’s off. The rest of the cooktop surface remains cool. Grease and spills can be easily wiped off,” he said.

In addition, an automatic shutdown feature kicks in when a pot is removed from the range or once the set cooking time is over.

“Because of the safety, I’d only go with an induction cooktop in a kitchen designed for clients wishing to age in place,” said Jeanette Loretz of JL Designs and Interiors in Los Altos.

Gina Viscusi Elson, principal of Viscusi Elson Interior Designs and Rutt Kitchens of Los Altos, is seeing a trend toward induction cooking – especially in contemporary homes.

“The streamlined aesthetics of an induction cooktop blend seamlessly with a modern home. The cooktop can be installed flush to the counter surface or slightly raised,” she said. “It is easy cleanup and more popular with the new generation of clients. You get instant gratification – everything happens faster and you no longer need special pots.”

There are pans specifically designed for induction cooking, but there are less-expensive alternatives that will work, such as cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron and certain stainless-steel pots. If a magnet sticks to the bottom of the pan, it will work. Copper and aluminum pans won’t work.

“My kitchen projects were 90% gas, but now they are roughly 70%, with a combination of gas and induction,” Viscusi Elson said.

One of her current projects has a four-burner gas cooktop next to a two-burner induction cooktop.

“Clients who are open to induction think a bit more modular. They can now select specific cooktop option to the needs of the chef,” she said.

Trial and error

Viscusi Elson attended a recent event staged by University Electric that brought together a small group of professional chefs, each with unique cooking styles.

“They talked about why they loved induction cooktops and encouraged our gas-loving cooks to give induction a chance,” she said.

One of them, executive chef and electric kitchen expert Rachelle Boucher, addressed the learning curve. She has cooked for the likes of filmmaker George Lucas, rock band Metallica and legendary sports celebrities.

In a conversation with Viscusi Elson, Boucher said it takes a while to get the hang of induction cooking with its quick heating and precision controls. Determining exactly how to control the heat levels takes a bit of trial and error. First-time users may very well burn the first food they begin to cook.

Many of the standard practices used with a gas or electric stove, like chopping vegetables while waiting for oil to heat in a pan, won’t work.

“She explained it can be a challenge recalibrating our traditional family recipes for induction cooking, but once this step is conquered, cooks never go back to gas cooking,” Viscusi Elson said.

Viscusi Elson has been spending more time in her new house and kitchen, which has reignited her passion for cooking.

“I have been cooking on a 48-inch Thermador gas range,” she said. “Only downside is there is a lot of cleanup around the stove. Rachelle encouraged me to purchase a singular induction hob to add to my kitchen.”

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