Meet a chef working to electrify commercial kitchens

Christopher Galarza helps restaurants and institutions shift to induction stoves. The change is good for the climate — and for kitchen workers’ mental health and well-being.
By Maria Virginia Olano

  • Link copied to clipboard
Chef Christopher Galarza

Working in a commercial kitchen can be intense, and not just because of the pressure to make great food. It entails hours of standing over the open flame of a gas-burning stove, enveloped in a cloud of extreme heat, humidity and steam.

It’s almost suffocating,” Christopher Galarza says. He spent 10 years cooking in conventional commercial kitchens until, thanks to a job change, he had the chance to experience an entirely different environment — that of a fully electric, induction-powered kitchen.

For Galazara, there was no going back. 

Now he wants to see induction stoves become the norm in restaurants and commercial kitchens across the country — for the mental and physical benefits they offer to people who work in those kitchens, and for the role they can play in moving away from fossil gas and addressing the climate crisis.

Galarza remembers vividly the first time he attempted to cook a meal. While in middle school, he woke up early one Saturday morning to watch cartoons and decided to make eggs for breakfast. He nearly burned the house down, waking his mother to a cloud of smoke and a pan of blackened eggs. That is when I realized the stove does not work like a microwave,” he says.

Galarza grew up in New Jersey, a first-generation American with a single mom who had emigrated from Brazil. Money was tight, and some days Galarza didn’t have enough to eat. That’s how I really got into food — just fantasizing about it when I was hungry,” he recalls.

Home life was rocky, and he would watch TV for hours as a form of escape, especially Iron Chef and Good Eats, two shows he credits with sparking his interest in cooking. They also made him curious about other cultures: I’d never seen a sea urchin in my life, but I saw it on Iron Chef and realized there is a whole world that exists beyond my neighborhood.” As an adult looking back, Galarza now recognizes that his childhood was not an easy one. But, he says, the hardship is what gave him the drive and perseverance to build the life he wanted.

When he was a teenager, Galarza and his mother moved to Miami. He began working in restaurants, first as a busboy and then as a cook, and became enamored with the area’s fresh seafood and wide variety of ingredients. At 19, he decided to apply to culinary school. His one requirement: It had to be somewhere in the Northeast because he missed winter so much. He ended up enrolling in a culinary program at The Art Institute in Pittsburgh. Upon graduation, he got a job at a well-known resort restaurant called The Greenbrier, working under certified Master Chef Richard Rosendale.

In 2014, Galarza became the catering sous chef at Carnegie Mellon University. By then, the long hours and demanding environment of professional kitchens were starting to wear on him. Still only in his 20s, Galarza was already experiencing the burnout so common in his profession.

This industry is a very brutal one. It takes a toll on your body. It takes a toll on your passions. It’s designed to chew you up and spit you back out,” he says. He blames the strenuous physical environment, and specifically the intense heat that cooks must endure. Once, he says, the kitchen where he was working was so hot that he put a meat thermometer in his pocket to check the temperature. It registered 135 degrees Fahrenheit.

From the backyard barbecue to the teppanyaki plates sizzling in restaurants, most people associate great cooking with hot open flames. But the fuel that often feeds those flames is not just heating up our kitchens — it’s also contributing to the climate crisis. Methane, the main component in the fossil gas that fuels more than a third of home stoves in the U.S., is a potent greenhouse gas. Fossil gas also negatively impacts human health, containing other toxic chemicals linked to cancer and greater risks of asthma, especially in kids. Like many cooks, I used to think gas is king,’ but at a certain point, I started questioning why,” Galarza says.

In 2015, Galarza took a job as executive chef at Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which is well known for its focus on sustainability. Galarza grew accustomed to cooking produce from local gardens and fish raised on nearby farms. The campus also had one of the country’s first fully electric commercial kitchens, and Galarza experienced for the first time what it was like to cook on induction stoves and in electric ovens, with no gas lines or open flames.

Two men examine vegetables and plants in a greenhouse garden
Chef Galarza (left) in the Chatham University greenhouse garden (Photo courtesy of Christopher Galarza)

The technology behind induction stoves, which has been around since the 1970s, uses magnetic fields instead of combusting gas to generate heat, and it is orders of magnitude faster, more precise and, critically, cooler and more climate-friendly than any other cooking method.

I fell in love with it,” Galarza says. It wasn’t just the lack of toxic fumes and hot, injury-inviting surfaces that Galarza appreciated. It was also the ease of cleaning up an induction stove; it needs only warm, soapy water as opposed to the grease-fighting chemicals required to clean up a gas stove, and it takes a fraction of the time.

Another lesser-known benefit of climate-friendly kitchens is how they impact the mental health of the people working in them. Galarza felt the difference immediately. The burnout that had plagued him eased, and he began to experience the joy of cooking again. Reinvigorated, he was eager to share with others what he’d learned at Chatham.

In the fall of 2018, a team at Microsoft that was interested in learning more about electric kitchens reached out for his opinion. I just gave it straight to them and was completely honest,” he recalls. He didn’t think much of it until he later got an email from the lead engineer on the project telling him that Microsoft had just committed to building an all-electric kitchen on its flagship campus in Redmond, Washington.

a row of induction cooktops in a commercial kitchen
An induction cooking line in an electric kitchen (Photo courtesy of Christopher Galarza)

Galarza then realized that people took his advice seriously. While he had previously thought of consulting as something you do after you’re retired,” he began to see an opportunity to advance the cause of induction cooking. In 2019, he and a close friend founded a consultancy called Forward Dining Solutions. In 2020, with his fiancée’s blessing and some money he had saved up, he left his job at Chatham and devoted himself to his consulting work full-time. His timing couldn’t have been better.

Over the past few years, states and municipalities across the country have passed laws and regulations and changed building codes to limit or ban the use of fossil gas in new buildings. The city of Berkeley in California was the first to ban natural gas in new construction in 2019, and though that ordinance is still being challenged in court, other municipalities have followed suit. San Francisco passed a similar ban in 2020, New York City in 2021, and Los Angeles in 2022. Dozens of smaller cities and counties have done the same.

The ultimate goal is for home cooks to embrace induction, says Galarza, but that starts with chefs. Chefs are like the influencers of food, the first movers, so it’s important to get their buy-in and support.” One of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of induction cooking is culture, but Galarza believes that this is something that can be changed. We had this argument in the early 1900s when we were moving from coal to gas. People feared change back then too. But it was a choice to improve air quality and increase production. We are having the same arguments today — 100 years later.”

If his own experience is any indication, it won’t be long before more and more chefs and restaurateurs will be making the switch to induction cooking, and Galarza will be there to show them the way. I feel like I hit the lottery,” he says. Not many kids who grew up the way I did get to find a way out, let alone be in a position to actually push the entire culinary landscape for a country into its next stage of evolution.” 

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.