“Extreme suffering” is the focus of elite kitchen culture – a study | Restaurants

Chefs have described the “extreme anguish” behind creating the award-winning food, in candid accounts including dipping bread-crumbled hands into deep-fat frying pans as an endurance test and knife cuts on stove tops.

Staff in Michelin-starred kitchens in the UK and abroad have told researchers how pain – from burns to beatings – remains central to building respect and demonstrating work ethic and character. But far from escaping violence, many have embraced it as part of achieving success and inhabited a subculture that saturates suffering with a “dark kind of fading beauty.”

The study of 62 chefs in 11 countries by academics at business schools in Cardiff and Lyon comes a center of classic French gastronomy, despite recent pledges by several high-profile chefs to embrace calmer, less brutal cultures.

One chef told researchers he was promoted because he dealt with his boss holding a knife to his throat while serving and yelling, “I’m really going to kill you.”

Another said the chef grabbed their severed thumb and cooked it in an oven so he could continue working. A third said, “They’ll tell you to put your hand in the flour, then in the eggs and then in the bread crumbs… And the game was who could stick his hand in the pan the longest, with the bread crumb mixture so-so-before you feel it burning and take it out.”

“This extreme suffering had a unifying effect on people working under these conditions,” concluded Dr. Robin Borough, lead author of the study, Bloody Suffering and Toughness: How Chefs Forge Identities Embodied in Elite Kitchens. “Chefs who neglected suffering had little claim to belonging to the culinary community…they were not real, proper chefs.”

TV chef Tom Kitchen has suspended two chefs and launched an investigation after 2021 allegations were made in the kitchens he oversaw. Photo: Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

The findings, which are based on candid but anonymous interviews over six years with mostly male chefs, have sparked calls from the UK’s chefs’ union, Unichef, for greater diversity in kitchens, including more women, to help eradicate what She called it “playground bullying” in the culture.

“In the 21st century, this is totally unacceptable, whether in Michelin-starred cuisine or cafés,” said Brian McElderry, CEO of the 8,000-member Unichef. He said that in recent weeks he had witnessed cooks committing towel-lashings and was dealing with a complaint about a member grabbed by the throat in the kitchen.

But the study, which also included chefs in kitchens included in the world’s 50 best restaurants, found that suffering is “mythologically regarded as virtuous and beneficial” by some chefs. Culture remains “central to how individuals create professional identities to gain recognition and respect among their peers”.

He concludes, “The ability to tolerate suffering is linked to concepts of employability, personality, and value.”

It follows allegations in 2021 of abuse in kitchens overseen by TV chef Tom Kitchen, who suspended two chefs and launched an investigation. He has since said, “We have strived to improve the environment in our kitchen and restaurant.”

In 2019, a chef at a restaurant run by Richard Davies, a protege of Gordon Ramsay, poured scalding butter on his pants, causing burns. Davis, who was not involved in the incident, apologized, fired the perpetrator and vehemently denied any culture of bullying.

Recent film and television productions, including The Bear, The Menu, and Boiling Point, have examined the world of elite chefs. Earlier this month, five-time World Restaurant Award winner Rene Redzepi, who previously admitted to erupting in “utter rage” at staff, and to being a bully who yelled and pushed people, announced the closure of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, saying: “It is simply Too hard.”

The culture seems to have deep roots. In his 2006 memoirs, Marco Pierre White described his kitchen at Harveys, his first London restaurant where he employed a young Gordon Ramsay, as “my theater of cruelty” and bragged about giving chefs “10-second throttle” and pelting one with glass bottles.

Chris Bartlett, a Norfolk-based chef who has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens, warned that the study will not pick up the many people, especially women, who have resigned themselves in the face of abusive cultures.

Three Michelin star Claire Smith admitted in 2008, when working for Ramsay, that she would “grab a guy and yell at him if he got it wrong”, which she said was the norm. Now running her own restaurant, Core in Notting Hill, she said in a recent interview: “I love the quiet environment. Everything is controlled. I find that much less stressful. There’s no need to shout.”

Bartlett also noted that the interviewees may have framed their suffering in a positive way, “otherwise they would crack.” He said he was “grabbed by the neck” by another chef and cauterized his wounds. Elite cooking, he said, appealed to people who wanted a measure of pain and suffering in their lives. He used to be a professional cyclist, a job notorious for its physical brutality.

The chef is pointing his finger
A scene from the Boiling Point TV production. Photo: vertigo

One chef told the researchers that working in kitchens “where no one else could last” showed you were “tough as nails” and “play an important role in the industry because they hand out badges and medals of honor.”

“The ability to tolerate suffering was related to concepts of employment, personality, and value,” said co-author Dr. Rebecca Scott. Suffering is central to chefs understanding who they are – both as individuals and as a broader social group.

Vin, a sous chef with experience in European and Asian kitchens, told the researchers that mistakes during service could be punished with a punch in the ribs, but he said, “Taking a chuckle—it’s kind of building your character and…that’s what I loved…those who worked there wanted All to be three Michelin starred chefs.”

Arthur, who has worked in Europe and Australia, said: “There is no way to develop yourself without suffering—your abilities, your endurance—without that. You know, there is no—it is all part of development in that world… Through suffering there is some enlightenment, some purpose.” Supreme. It’s that stoic life.”

I was in the army now

Chefs say life in haute cuisine is like life in the army. “The body assumes it’s going to war,” one chef told researchers at Cardiff and Lyon Business School. “So before I even started working I would vomit and have diarrhea and then go to work and do a 19-20 hour shift.”

Another told them, “It’s like that mentality if you go to war.” “You come out stronger on the other side.”

One chef described a colleague suffering from “shell shock” due to exhaustion. The language of the kitchen is also the language of the military. Team “Brigade”. The utensils and pans used in a professional kitchen are known as “cookware— who holds the suggestion of the kitchen artillery.

Auguste Escoffier, the French cook who initiated the brigade class system and designed the “putThe prepare-to-serve approach—used in most kitchens—has been in the French Army for several years.

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