Asian restaurants may get left behind from Los Angeles’ ban on residential and commercial gas appliances.
Last Friday, the Los Angeles County City Council passed a motion placing a ban on most residential and commercial gas appliances to reduce carbon emissions and thereby combating climate change. Los Angeles County strives to be carbon neutral by 2045. More than 50 cities and counties in California, such as San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Sacramento, already have passed ordinances that require construction of new buildings to be natural gas-free or meet electrification building codes.
“Zero-carbon buildings have better indoor air quality, lower construction costs, fewer safety risks—especially during earthquakes—and lower climate emissions than equivalent mixed-fuel buildings,” the Los Angeles County City Council stated in the motion.
This call to action may have cascading effects on the food industry in Los Angeles, especially for Asian restaurants, where the quality of food relies heavily on industrial woks, ovens and grills that require natural gas.
Natural gas gives Cantonese cuisine their signature “wok hei,” or breath of the wok. Chefs crank up the heat instantaneously to roaring temperatures that coat the wok from all sides, allowing the meat, seafood and vegetables inside to be tossed and seared to receive the signature smoky flavors that cannot be perfectly replicated when cooking with electric appliances.
“The wok itself is really essential to Asian cuisine,” a Chinese restaurant owner told the Los Angeles Times. “By taking gas away, you’re telling us we cannot use woks anymore, essentially taking away our identity and heritage. It forces us to adapt to American culture.”
To become carbon neutral, restaurants must invest in swapping their gas equipment for electric infrastructure. Restaurants’ gas bills may vanish completely, but their electricity costs will increase. For the greater good of the planet, chefs may have to adopt new cooking techniques and practices.
On Nov. 21, 2019, the California Restaurant Association filed a complaint against the City of Berkeley for phasing away from natural gas, stating, “restaurants specializing in international foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas. Many chefs are trained using natural gas stoves, and losing natural gas will slow down the process of cooking, reduce a chef’s control over the amount and intensity of heat, and affect the manner and flavor of food preparation.”
The case is still being investigated.
One thing is for certain: If restaurants are unable to transition or train their employees, they could fall behind as a result of this motion, changing the future of Asian restaurants in Los Angeles.