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I am an electrical engineer, who have studied ins and outs of microwaves - so I would find ludicrous, scientifically and physically wrong conjectures like microwaving destroys the "structure" of food or makes it radioactive.

Why do restaurants and ascribed "good-chefs" avoid the reputation of using the microwave oven? At least, I get that vibe from Hell's kitchen.

To me, when used expertly, the microwave oven in combination with convection or grilling produces excellent and tasty food. And it saves electricity. For example, I microwave my chicken first for a few minutes in an enclosure, before roasting or grilling it.

Why would a restaurant or renowned chef not boast of "expertise in microwave" but in fact, hides it, as much as he/she would boast of their expertise on the wok or on the flame?

Is microwaving bad for your food? Or reputation? Why?

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    Hell's Kitchen is .. not a great place to get a vibe that's shared among most professional cooks and chefs. – Tim Post Aug 14 '16 at 18:36
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Microwaves steam food from within, because they excite water molecules to the point of heat production. This has varied side effects such as:

  • Glutens tighten (that's why breads come out rubbery, and pasta sometimes falls apart)
  • Meats cook unevenly (though, as you mentioned, this can be a way to give marrow bone-in meats a head start so they cook completely in less time on dry heat)
  • Vegetables steam very quickly and are easily overcooked (though spuds in a microwave can be a handy shortcut)
  • While those 'crisper' liners can help, you can't really sear anything that's steaming. It's meant to reheat things mostly, and it's good at cooking some things entirely.

I would no sooner put waffles in a pressure cooker than I would tenderloin or fresh squash in a microwave - it's just the wrong tool for the job. But I will use one to melt butter, thaw demi glace, soften potatoes, quickly heat water to replenish a pasta pot that has been going a while, and lots of other things.

My objection to the use of them in commercial kitchens is mostly centered around cooks preparing and freezing stuff and then just microwaving it on demand. I can buy frozen food much cheaper in the grocery store. If you can easily reheat something that needs bulk prep and cold storage without degrading the taste or texture, who cares how you do it? I don't mind if you microwave my mash as long as it was made recently and tastes like you made it today :)

My objection to home use is assembling an entirely cold dinner plate and whacking it in there for a few minutes - my short ribs get all dry and my string beans start staring at me like Whoopi Goldberg would if I accidentally walked in on her in the restroom. Microwaves don't replace conventional ovens, but they're often marketed as if they do.

But I don't hate microwaves, in fact I'm considering an upgrade to one of the smarter ones in hopes of getting more use out of something that occupies some prime counter real estate.

Much like hammers, I think they just get used as inappropriately as they do appropriately, and you're hearing lots of people complaining about throbbing thumbs :)

I think some also resent the implied suggestion that microwave manufacturers make, which is "go on, cook more of stuff that shouldn't be reheated, in fact you don't even need to worry about that anymore - we've got this!" At least I did when I saw my mother-in-law grab 750 grams of cooked tiger prawns and throw them in the microwave on high for three minutes and I knew it would be rude not to eat them.

  • Yep, the expectation is "just put the heat back in the food, change nothing else, so expect to get the same result as if freshly served if food isn't spoiled". I suspect often the "damage" is misunderstood as coming from the reheating process, rather than as damage coming from the cooling/storing (which conventional reheating methods, eg toasting bread, will in some cases actually fix instead of fail to produce). – rackandboneman Aug 15 '16 at 10:56
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Microwave does not wreck foods. It is good for heating and reheating small portions of food. Not good for cooking as it does not heat evenly. Microwave does not allow for spicing as you go. A shorter cook does not tenderize as much. On a broiler would not get as much smoke flavor.

Many professional and home chefs use sous-vide to cook as slowly as possible to tenderize and for even cooking. Your theory of cook it fast is going against the grain.

As for electricity an oven or grill is left on the for shift. Pre heating in a microwave is not going to reduce electricity.

In a commercial setting with large forced convection ovens, broilers, grills, and etc a microwave is just not manpower efficient.

It is used for specialty type stuff like sauces you need to heat up rapidly.

For your the meal it is faster but your work time does not decease. You could have just put it in the oven for X more minutes.

In a commercial setting you are working on several meals at once. An extra couple minutes on the grill is not extra labor. Pre nuking is extra labor. Ovens and grills are heated. Hopefully everything you need to cook is thawed. You don't need another device and more traffic.

  • What is takes me 10 minutes to achieve with microwaving, takes 40 minutes in the convection oven. And more electricity. And in hot summer, there is no wasted lingering heat as in a convection oven. Achieving even/distributed heating is a science, that eludes chefs without understanding of the physics involved. With just the right amount of oil, inside a glassware, the heated oil will distribute the heat. Also microwaving your meat and then grilling it is a more controllable way to achieve the profile desired - tender and juicy in the inside but burnt and browned on the outside. And faster. – Cynthia Avishegnath Aug 14 '16 at 11:54
  • @CynthiaAvishegnath Substitute X more minutes for 10 more minutes. I said microwave is faster. If you think microwave is better then fine. I gave my answer and reasons. SE is not chat site. – paparazzo Aug 14 '16 at 12:07
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Personally I found that certain foods do not "tolerate" the microwave as good as others, typically any food with water or with sauce can be reheated and still have a proper taste and flavors, however other foods, for example pizza tend to get chewy after being reheated on the microwave, and with such a texture, the food is a bit ruined.

So I guess that if I go to a restaurant to spend 30 Euros in a good dish, I would not expect it to be done in the microwave, not even reheated, as that would indicate that the dish has not been just cooked.

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Microwaving isn't inherently bad. But there are a lot of ways it's easy to misuse a microwave, and a lot of things a microwave can't do. It's telling that the example that you gave involves using the microwave in combination with other cooking methods.

If you're using the microwave to fully cook the food, it's inevitably going to be like you unevenly boiled/steamed it. If all you're doing is heating up a fairly liquid soup, that's fine. But it'll also tend to make mushy vegetables, unevenly cooked meat, and so on. And it can never really brown things like you can easily do on a stove or in the oven. In that sense, it really is bad for the structure of the food.

Your example of briefly microwaving chicken before roasting or grilling it? Sure, that saves time overall, and it works out well. But it'd be easy to mess up if you're not familiar with the microwave and end up with chicken that's overcooked in spots, and it takes more active work time than just popping it in an oven and forgetting about it for a while. If you really want good results and to save time, then instead of using the microwave, you'd cook the chicken sous vide, holding it exactly at the "done" temperature, and then pop some out to roast/grill to finish as needed. That's faster, less work, and more reliable.

So, sure, microwaves can be very useful, and if you know how to use them well, they won't mess up your food. But most people use them in less ideal ways, and it makes sense to discourage that kind of thing if you want good food. It's possible that some cooking shows exaggerate or overgeneralize this, but the core is definitely true: trying to do too much on a microwave can make awful food.

And the tradeoffs you're willing to make in your home kitchen aren't the same ones you'd want to make in a professional kitchen. If you can cook a dish faster, but it requires your attention for more of the time, that's worth it at home when you're just making a couple things. But if everyone's busy all the time cooking at a larger scale, you care about the amount of work time it takes, not just the wall clock time from start to finish. There are easier ways to save time, especially in a restaurant kitchen.

  • One who deliberately lengthens the time to cook when a faster way of cooking is available is a hi-falutin elitist. A chef who refuses to learn and practice the art and science of proper microwave cooking just because he/she does not want to encourage bad microwave usage - that is like avoiding the wok because too many people don't know how to use the wok. You are a chef - so learn the art and science of it, just as you learn the art and science of the flame and the wok. – Cynthia Avishegnath Aug 15 '16 at 0:58
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    @CynthiaAvishegnath If you just want to rant, this is not the place. If you're genuinely trying to learn why microwaves aren't used more, read my answer again - the points I've made are not as you imply in your comment. – Cascabel Aug 15 '16 at 1:03
  • A wok dish benefits from short cooking times. A casserole or a tomato sauce from long cooking times. All because of science. Also... specialization anyone? Someone who wants to learn all techniques available will learn each of them slowly and imperfectly. – rackandboneman Aug 15 '16 at 10:59

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