No one in the hotel wears a moustache, except the cooks: Gastronomy and systems of social reproduction

  • Yann Cerf Haute école de travail social, Geneva, Switzerland
Keywords: kitchen work, haute-cuisine, schismogenesis, care and productive work, interpretive labour

Abstract

Anyone who has worked in the food industry knows that a considerable part of a waiter’s work lies in having to understand customers. A few feet away, in the kitchen, things look different. Customers are frequently portrayed as distant, unfriendly, petulant, or even downright arbitrary in their desires. A great part of working in the kitchen is thought of as distinctive from service work and the customer’s wants. Cooks focus on ingredients and their transformation, in opposition to the interpretive labour done by waiters and management staff. How are cooks to make intricate luxury food when they seem to refuse to relate to those for whom they make it? What kind of political imagination are we dealing with? In this article, I explore ethnographic data drawn from my apprenticeship in a French gastronomic kitchen (south of France, 2018–2019). This data includes lists, longer descriptions and a more analytical text. Literature on kitchen work (academic and literary) provide distance and nuance to the data. Graeber’s discussions on schismogenesis, sense-making in work societies, and systems of social reproduction provide a framework for a description of the ideology behind the production of luxury foods in capitalist societies. This allows for a new way of looking at what was called the subculture of kitchens, its rebellious image, and its ambivalent attitude towards work and how it should be done and talked about. By their position in the restaurant, central in production and marginal in consumption, kitchen workers navigate an ideology of defiance emerging from distant encounters with customers and their intentions, desires, and way of life.

Published
2021-12-31