Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work

Presented by
Gary Alan Fine, Ph.D. (GAF of LTHforum)

Podcast by Chicago Amplified of WBEZ Chicago

When the original research for Kitchens: The Culture of Restaurant Work was conducted in the 1980s, no broad, demanding public existed for fine dining. To be sure, gourmets were to be found in large cities and restaurants like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse had made the Bay Area ground zero for what was to become an American dining revolution. Gourmets treasured their suppers, but there were darn few foodie followers, who now populate trendy bistros. When the original edition of Kitchens was published in 1996, it was still BKC: Before Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s influential account of life in a restaurant kitchen and as a “bad-boy” chef: a book that promoted the image of chef-as-celebrity. Gary Alan Fine’s republished book attempts to ride the culinary tsunami Tony Bourdain launched.

Gary Alan Fine’s backstage, sociological residence in restaurant kitchens revealed cooks who were less prone to “acting out” than some current depictions. These (mostly) men were more serious as workers and less sophisticated as artistes. Some of this resulted from the fact that he was observing in the backstage of kitchens in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Some of the differences in style resulted from regional character. Still, much was happening in these kitchens, including some actions that would be disconcerting to diners. Diners will only wait so long for their meals to be cooked before they complain, and as a result if a steak falls on the stove or on the floor (!), the demands of the diner forces the chef to wipe it off, reheat and serve. Bon Appetit! Here is a backstage world where what diners don’t know, (mostly) won’t hurt them. The work of cooking requires adjusting to the demands of the clock: thyme and time again.

Gary Alan Fine is the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University. He received his Ph.D. degree in social psychology from Harvard University. Throughout his career – at the University of Minnesota, the University of Georgia, and for the past twelve years at Northwestern, he has conducted observation research on occupations and on leisure scenes. In addition to his research on restaurants, he also has studied trade school cooking programs. Before being an academic he was a professional restaurant reviewer, and currently writes a restaurant blog, “Vealcheeks.”

Program hosted at Kendall College.