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California Restaurants Warn Natural-Gas Ban Takes Seared Steak Off the Table

Mark Chediak

(Bloomberg) -- Restaurateurs have a message for local governments banning the use of natural gas in new homes and businesses: Say goodbye to good food.

The California Restaurant Association is warning that the flame-seared meat and charred vegetables that foodies have grown so accustomed to ordering will become a thing of the past in Berkeley, California, which in July became the first city in America to end new gas hook-ups in an effort to curb global-warming emissions. The group is suing the city in federal court.

Taking away a chef’s natural gas stove is akin to “taking paint away from a painter and asking them to create a masterpiece,” said Robert Phillips, a chef and chairman of the Chef De Cuisine Association of California.

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It’s a battle that’s about to go national. At least a dozen other cities in California have passed similar measures, and the movement is bleeding into communities outside the Golden State. Brookline, a town outside of Boston, voted this week to block gas hookups in new buildings. Seattle has also been considering a ban. Two major utilities in New York have imposed moratoriums on new service as the state blocks pipeline projects.

For its part, the city of Berkeley says it’s confident that the gas prohibition complies with “all relevant laws” and that it will “vigorously defend” the ordinance against the lawsuit.

California’s restaurant owners say the prohibition on new structures in Berkeley would “render meaningless” much of the culinary training of some of the finest chefs. They’re also arguing that it would be “irresponsible” considering the mass blackouts that electric utility PG&E Corp. has been orchestrating to keep its power lines from sparking wildfires.

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Depriving new restaurants of gas stoves may be an especially big blow for the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its diversity of Asian cuisines.

“Restaurants specializing in international foods so prized in the Bay Area will be unable to prepare many of their specialties without natural gas,” the association said. “Many of these restaurants rely on gas for cooking particular types of food, whether it be flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lynn Doan at ldoan6@bloomberg.net, Dan Reichl

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