Why London’s Top Chefs Are All Cooking on £99 Induction Hobs
“I wouldn’t ever go back to gas.”
Photo courtesy Lakeland.
At P. Franco wine bar in London, an act of culinary sorcery is about to commence. Tim Spedding, former sous chef at the Michelin-starred Clove Club, is standing in front of two induction hobs. There's no pacojet, no sous vide bath, no army of chefs running the pass. Instead, it's just Spedding working two portable electric hobs with the adroitness of a DJ behind the decks.
From this modest setup, he has produced five killer courses: Cantabrian anchovies drizzled in olive oil, smoked eel toast, raw Cornish sea bass, mustard leaves with coriander and soy, and not forgetting the spider crab congee, seaweed butter, and Chrysanthemum.
By kitchen standards, this is as minimalist as a Carl Andre brick sculpture. But Spedding finds cooking in such a sparse way liberating.
"It's quite a contrast to working in The Clove Club's kitchen," he laughs. "Here, with limited cooking capacity, you focus entirely on presenting the best ingredients in the most balanced way."
For Spedding, who finishes his chef residency at P. Franco in a few weeks to start a new project in Cornwall, cooking with an induction hob is the best way of letting ingredients shine.
"The quality of your produce is paramount and you can't over think or go off on tangents," he says.
Spedding isn't alone in his love of the humble induction hob (his was £99 from Lakeland). James Ramsden is proprietor of fellow East London restaurant Pidgin, as well as the recently opened Enfant Terrible wine bar (currently shut due to venue issues), where he has installed only induction hobs.
"I wouldn't ever go back to gas," he declares.
Ramsden may have earned a Michelin star at Pidgin but he says even the amateur cook can create beautiful food on the portable stove: "Once you get the hang of them, they're far easier than cooking on gas or electric."
Down the road in Shoreditch, James Lowe of the Michelin-starred Lyle's, is also a fan. His menu is based around fire (the kitchen has a wood-burning oven and a charcoal grill), which means dishes like brill and black cabbage or Dexter rump with beetroot and dulse.
But Lowe also has four induction hobs and two portable ones. He fell for the no-frills cooking kit when starting out with The Young Turks chefs collective.
"It enabled us to cook on the top of car parks and the other places we found ourselves," Lowe explains. Induction hobs heat quickly, are energy efficient, and easy to clean.
"They're used by a lot of street food people for that reason," adds Lowe.
Travel back 30 years, however, to when the Britain's street food and pop-up scene was yet to be, and induction hobs were considered pretty naff. They went mainstream in the 70s but only in the domestic kitchen; never restaurants. For one thing, they required specific pans. But mostly, reckons Lowe, it was down to tool snobbery.
"A lot of chefs love cooking on gas still because it's reminiscent of the French grand cuisine days. It's 'proper cooking' controlling the heat by eye, which you don't have when you're selecting heat by a number on induction," he says. "If you look at the kitchens in Paris, they will all be gas with solid tops—no induction, no grills, or 'barbecues' as they call them."
But British Millennials have created a shift in culinary culture. DIY approaches are seen as creative meanders worth exploring and French cooking, while loved, is no longer fawned over. As a result, induction hobs are seen as a useful and accessible piece of kit for the ambitious chef with limited money and space.
"All you need is a plug socket and you can set up your kitchen," Spedding reflects. "We are perhaps seeing more inductions because restaurateurs and chefs are becoming more creative with spaces that previously might have been deemed unsuitable."
He completes tonight's induction hob dinner with Brussels tops stuffed with pheasant, sea urchin Tajarin, and a clementine granita. Could this be the end of finicky high tech cooking?
"At the moment, there's a nice balance between chefs creating amazing things with out-there techniques," concludes Ramsden. "It's an important reminder that you can cook very interesting food in a lo-fi kitchen."
And that's something certainly worth remembering.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in January 2017.