Aug. 20, 2021 — Many words in the English language can prompt a collegial, verbal volleyball game played by scientists and sociologists alike. For example, chemists devote their careers to researching bonds, forces that allow chemical elements to share or transfer electrons to form chemical compounds. Thousands of years ago in veins deep in the Earth, ionic bonds joined sodium with chloride to produce table salt. But to sociologists, bonds are sometimes inexplicable forces that draw people together, the beating heart of society. Now think of the word, induction. To Chaîne members, it’s a ceremony to welcome new friends to their beloved culinary organization. To Chef Christopher Galarza, founder and culinary sustainability consultant of Forward Dining Solutions, co-host of the Sustainable Overload Podcast, and member of Chaîne’s Pittsburgh Bailliage, induction has meaning in erudite worlds of both science and sociology. As an expert in sustainable culinary solutions, he believes commercial induction ranges, which use an electromagnetic field to more efficiently and effectively heat pots and pans, will transform the way chefs and their staff work to create a healthier, more efficient environment. “The future of this technology is no longer in the future. It is now,” Chef Galarza, 31, said during a March 18, 2021 interview with Chaîne.
The story of how Chef Chris created his future is nothing short of remarkable, the stuff of which Hollywood movies are made. At times homeless as a first generation American with a Brazilian mother, Chris found comfort at the many cultural food festivals in New Jersey where he spent his youth. “It was my escape to a better place,” Chris said. He fantasized not only about food but also about careers around food.
After moving to Florida, at 15, a local restaurant hired him as a busboy. Although his job was primarily in the front of the house, he was often found lingering in the back of the house. “I would constantly get in trouble for being in the kitchen talking with chefs, asking them what they were doing. All I wanted to do was to learn more about the food, more about the chefs, what they were doing and why they were doing it,” Chris said.
At 16, he was hired as a cook. “I was god-awful at it but loved it,” Chris said. With unbridled ambition to excel, he bought the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) textbook, reading and writing it out from cover to cover to learn how to be a chef.
Now a self-taught chef at 19 years old, Chris decided he needed to earn a degree to further his career. He only applied to culinary schools in northern states because he missed seasons filled with snow and rain. A rainy day is his kind of weather because of its relaxing nature, he said.
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh accepted him into their culinary program so off to Pittsburgh he went. “It was life altering,” Chris said. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Management. A professor helped him land his first job at The Greenbrier where he was one of 12 apprentices to Chef Richard Rosendale, a Certified Master Chef. “I was very fortunate,” Chris said.
While there, he learned from five culinary Olympians, worked an event with three Master Chefs, and met Chef Gerard T. Kenny II who became one of Chris’ best friends. Chris said he never could have imagined as a high school student that one day he would be advancing his culinary skills, learning ice carving and being introduced to wine tasting at The Greenbrier.
From The Greenbrier, Chris went back to Pittsburgh where his girlfriend, who is now his fiance, was living. He ultimately took a job as a catering chef at Carnegie Mellon University and soon found himself catering private events for the university president.
Few people could rise so far and so fast as Chris did without very specific goals. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he had checked most of his boxes except one. He defined a goal years ago to perform a “world’s first” within the culinary profession. It was time to accomplish that goal.
Sustainability and all-electric commercial kitchens
He left Carnegie Mellon to accept a position at Chatham University to develop their first sustainable all-electric commercial kitchen in Eden Hall. This time there was not an authoritative textbook to consult so he devoured information he could find about electrification, decarbonization and sustainability.
The project was a complement to the university’s farm-to-table focus with their own vegetable and fruit farms and a forest of sugar maple trees that are tapped each spring for maple syrup production.
“It was a chef’s playground,” Chris said. “I got to work with technology I never heard of before and learn all about it. It was so much fun.”
Chris is passionate about electrification with its many scientific as well as social benefits. Electric induction ranges are 93 percent efficient versus 50 percent for a top-of-the-line gas range and 35 percent as an average, he explained. Only the pan gets hot on an induction range so overall, the kitchen stays cooler with no harmful carbon monoxide emissions, which are very important benefits to chefs and their staff. Studies have shown people are comfortable working in temperatures from 60 to 74 degrees but once gas ranges are turned on, kitchen temperatures can quickly soar to over 100 degrees. “If you feel the heat in the kitchen, that is money wasted,” Chris said.
Most important, in blistering hot temperatures, tempers can flare as quickly as the food. Keeping the air cooler keeps staff cooler, calmer, and focused on their task at hand, he added.
Finally, induction ranges are cleaned with hot, soapy water instead of harsh chemicals so less time is required for cleaning and staff are not exposed to any harmful cleaning solutions.
In 2018, his Chatham University kitchen caught the attention of Microsoft. The software giant had been contemplating converting to all-electric kitchens at their expansive Redmond, Washington campus for three years but lacked expertise to proceed.
Microsoft hired Chris to be their project consultant, another milestone in his career that he could never have imagined as a high school student with a part time job as a busboy.
Chris formed his own consulting company (Forward Dining Solutions) and remained at Chatham until 2020 when he decided to “go full steam ahead” with his consulting business after realizing he had quickly become the leading expert on sustainable, all-electric commercial kitchens. The pandemic slowed him down somewhat but he is now busier than ever literally writing his future and that of the culinary industry in the United States.
In April 2021, Chris launched the Sustainable Overload Podcast with co-host Chef Juice of RxMusic (Joshua Weiblinger – stage name Xander Wayne) to interview industry leaders and innovators in engineering, architecture and culinary arts about sustainability.
“Sustainability isn’t a fad, electrification and decarbonization isn’t a fad. These conversations on how to better our systems aren’t just vapid discussions by virtue signalers hell bent on changing systems for the sake of change. The truth is that there are real people out there who want to do what’s best for us all and are using sound reasoning, judgment and most importantly data to make change. In a nutshell, it doesn’t’ seem like I’m alone anymore,” Chris said in an Aug. 12, 2021 email.
With strong bonds formed at The Greenbrier, a few weeks ago Chef Kenny joined Forward Dining Solutions as the company’s new Director of Strategic Operations and is Chris’ business partner.
While his focus is on commercial kitchens, Chris has been keeping an eye on the residential market.
“This tech is far more ubiquitous at the residential level than the commercial. It’s going to take education and experience before we see the proliferation of induction technology in the commercial kitchen but for now there are great gains taking place at the residential level,” Chris said.
He believes the primary barrier to adoption in commercial kitchens is twofold: education and mindset.
“As Americans, we have a real bad problem when it comes to change. We have an aversion, almost like an allergy, to change. We push back hard, never really giving it the time of day,” Chris said. The mindset is the well known adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he added.
But Chris calls on chefs to think about their long history of leadership. “As chefs, we have always been innovators. We have always been those who push the culinary envelope.”
In the next few months, there will be many opportunities for chefs to tap into Chris’ expertise. Chris will be speaking in September at the NetZero Conference and the GreenBuild Conference (links below). And he will be teaching a cooking series for the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, one of the most sustainable campuses in the world, Chris said.
And at the end of the year, the Design Professional’s Guide to Decarbonization of the Built Environment will be published by the William J. Worthen Foundation. Chris helped write the Guide, which will likely end up in the hands of many ambitious young chefs plotting their futures in the profession as Chris did by soaking up knowledge.
“I’ve always been a nerd. I’ve always loved the science of cooking more than actual cooking. I’ve always loved how something works more than actually using whatever equipment that is. This is the best of both worlds. I love food. I love this industry and in doing so, I get to effect change,” Chris said.
Chef Chris is clearly a catalyst for culinary change, both scientifically and sociologically speaking!
Forward Dining Solutions
Sustainable Overload Podcast
The Design Professional’s Guide to the Built Environment (William J. Worthen Foundation)
Chef Christopher Galarza | LinkedIn
Christopher A. Galarza (@forwarddiningsolutionsllc) • Instagram photos and videos