chapter  8
24 Pages

Stress and the Edge of Chaos

In his book Kitchen Confidential American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (2000) provides, so it is claimed, a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all account of his rise through the ranks of food preparation, to line-cooking, to chef in the American restaurant industry. This sensation(alised) account of the often seedy world of the restaurant industry is an account echoed in any number of similar exposés (Buford 2006, White 2006). In a chapter titled Who Cooks? Bourdain (2000, 55-57) asks what is not, necessarily, an obvious question: Who is cooking the food that you eat in a restaurant? The question becomes obvious because it is highly unlikely, at least in the world of starred chefs, that the celebrity chef is the actual person who has prepared and cooked the meal that is served to customers. Part of the reason that Bourdain poses the question is to identify the type of person he looks for to staff the lines and stations in his kitchen. Line cooking, which Bourdain claims to be the real business of food preparation in the restaurant industry, is about ‘consistency, about mindless, unvarying repetition, the same series of tasks performed over and over and over again in exactly the same way’. This well disciplined, regimented, hierarchical monotony is not where you want to be confronted by an ‘innovator, somebody with ideas of their own who is going to mess around with the chef’s recipes and presentations’. Chefs, suggests Bourdain, ‘require blind near fanatical loyalty, a strong back and an automaton-like consistency of execution under battlefield conditions’. In Bourdain’s account line cooks are a ‘dysfunctional, mercenary lot, fringe-dwellers motivated by money, the peculiar lifestyle of cooking and a grim pride’. In the US where Bourdain works these types are usually embodied as Ecuadorian, Mexican, Dominican and Salvadorian cooks who know best the ‘American dream of hard work leading to material rewards’ – better than ‘some bed-wetting white boy whose mom brought him up thinking the world owed him a living, and who thinks he actually knows a few things’ (see Kelly and Harrison 2009, 180-182).