Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work

Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work

Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work

Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work


Kitchens takes us into the robust, overheated, backstage world of the contemporary restaurant. In this rich, often surprising portrait of the real lives of kitchen workers, Gary Alan Fine brings their experiences, challenges, and satisfactions to colorful life. He provides a riveting exploration of how restaurants actually work, both individually and as part of a larger culinary culture. Working conditions, time constraints, market forces, and aesthetic goals all figure into the food served to customers--who often don't know quite what they're getting.

The kitchen is a place of constant compromise, of quirks, approximations, dirty tricks, surprises, and short cuts, as Fine demonstrates in his deft, readable narrative. He brings to life the complicated relationships among kitchen workers--servers, dishwashers, pantry workers, managers, restaurant critics, and customers--and reveals the effects of organizational structure on individual relations.


Eroticism is the most intense of passions while Gastronomy is
the most extended…. Although both are made up of combi
nations and connections—bodies and substances—in Love
the number of combinations is limited and pleasure tends to
climax in an instant … while in Gastrosophy the number of
combinations is infinite; pleasure, instead of tending toward
concentration, tends to propagate and extend itself through
taste and savoring.

—Octavio Paz

Gender roles ensnare us all. In the early years of my marriage, when my wife and I were graduate students, she did the housework. When, at last, we both obtained “real jobs,” she insisted that I assume more responsibilities. Like many males who share household tasks, I chose those that permitted the most freedom, creativity, and personal satisfaction: I decided to learn to cook. Of all chores, cooking seemed least onerous. But, even so, that justification was not sufficient; I needed a rationale to avoid “wasting” time in the kitchen—transforming life into work, just as my work was leisure. As a sociologist interested in art, I could learn to cook and observe professional cooks, a group that had not been examined ethnographically. I cannily transformed household chores into professional engagement. My cooking skills expanded to where I enjoyed eating what I had cooked: no small achievement in view of those first hot, harsh evenings at the stove.

Finally I had learned enough that I would not be thought hopelessly and laughably inept if I shared space with professional cooks. At that point I took a giant step from my kitchen into the “real world” of the food production industry. I decided to learn how students learn and are taught to cook professionally. I received permission from two state-run technical-vocational institutes in the Twin Cities metropoli-

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