Do chefs dream of cloned sheep?

Do chefs dream of cloned sheep?

Text the author originally intended to write as a comment to the excellent “Abolish restaurants” to perhaps give some hints to which directions the restaurant and food industry is going.

But as my experiences of course is rather limited to the about 15 differents places in Sweden where I have worked with food, it would be nice to get some input from others who is working or have worked in restaurants, food processing or is just attentive customers. As I usually don´t discuss these things in english my language might be a bit confusing, so feel free to ask.

The times they are a-changing...

Class compositions is not just about how and where we work, but about a lot of different thing, among them how we eat. In Sweden, more and more people are eating at restaurants and fewer and fewer is eating at home. This has, among other things, lead to changes in the restaurant business. So there is some material basis for more employees in restaurants as well, but the need for more waiters and cooks could lead to a stronger position for the restaurant workers so the owners have countered the need for skilled workers with different means. When it comes to waiters and waitresses to most common trick have just been to employ unskilled teenagers (with “unskilled” I mean without a formal education), in Sweden a unskilled 17 or 18 years old restaurants worker cost about 2/3 of an older skilled worker and they are probably less likely to start problems for the restaurant owner. And usually the customers don´t really expect more of the service workers then a smile and someone to bring out their food (and not for example hints about what wine to drink or conversation).

The skilled kitchen personal is perhaps harder to get rid of, to be able to make a decent meal in short time you have to have certain skills. In other occupations skilled workers have been made expandible by new machinery and in the recent years I have noticed the same tendency in the restaurants. At the place I work now, we have got a new oven which got dozens of programmes for different kind of food. For example, you can just punch in what kind of food you´re making – apple pie, lasagna or bread and the oven then starts to it, it has preset programmes with set temperatures, time and heat/steam. And when the oven starts you can´t tell the temperature then. This means you basically don´t know how to cook to make food in the oven. But thats not the only function. The other function is control, your boss can go back and check the computer to see what programmes have been used at what time to and counter that with what has been sold or what time we “should” start at the day. Basically, the knowledge that used to only exist in the heads of the kitchen slaves is built into machines, so that would mean that the heads of the kitchen slaves is made obsolete and only their hands are needed.

As the head line indicates, this post is also about cloning, or to be more precise, the food industry. With higher and more even quality from the food industry and cheaper and better processed food you don´t need to know so much about food to be a cook. For example, they sell sauce-basis for sauce bearnaise which is very cheap and of decent quality, this would mean you don´t need anyone in your kitchen who actually knows have to make sauce bearnaise, so the occupational knowledge is built into the goods at this point, nothing odd about that. But when it comes to cloning, the knowledge is, so to speak, built into animals. This means you can get a pork loin that is exactly the same all the time, fried 10 minutes at 200 degrees will every time produce the same result.

My conclusion is thus that the material conditions for removing all skilled workers from the restaurant business already exists, but that doesn´t really mean it will happen over night. Many restaurants is run by a sole owner that have only one joint, it is not a centralised business based on a few big owners or multinationals (even if that is also a possible development). I would guess that many of the small owners can´t afford the new fancy equipment anyway.

Anyway, I hope that you who reads this can put in your two cents about what you think will happen and how this will influence the class struggle.

Kim Müller aka the swedish chef.

Comments

antichef
Aug 18 2008 16:49

Thanks for posting on this topic Kim,

Interesting post; I don't know much about Sweden, but here in the US most food service jobs have already been scripted and systematically de-skilled.
As sucessfull as McDonalds has been in this endeavor, there will always be jobs for skilled food service workers (how many and where, though). Just as most people here eat fast food a few times a day, there is still a market for fancier foods for richer people. Part of the appeal for them seems to be the Chef. In US English, "Chef" denotes a position of authority - a boss, not just a skilled cook, although there are some Chefs who are not managers or employers. Rich people love to think of themselves as cultured, what better way to be cultured and consume "authentic" culture than by chatting with / hiring a Chef. The fascination with a make believe glamorous kitchen world is manifested by actors like Emeril and the Food Network. Everyone who hasn't worked in a kitchen loves Chefs - they think they are dashing, cultured, skilled, etc . . . but the perspective of most cooks is different. Cooks (unless they want to be a Chef/Boss) tend to see Chefs as arrogant overlords, as capricious, cheap, and abusive. Now maybe this sort of behavior is created by the pressures of their job (mercilously sweating labor out of impoverished and precarious workers whilst trying to oversee the assembly of delicious and consistent products at a breakneck speed that will appeal to patrons as "handmade") - but the pressures of the jobs of their subordinates are much more severe.

Cooks & dishwashers get carpal tunnel, burns, cuts, and back problems. Chefs get the glory and the money.

The influence of technology is an interesting subject, and there are many possibilities for it to be applied to monitor, script, and regiment the working lives of food service workers. A former boss installed cameras linked to his home computer (presumably so he can snort coke and "work" at the same time) that enables him to compare the tickets (descriptions of what was sold when) to the work of the cooks. I do think, that in spite of all the technology they can come up with, that skilled cooks are going to be needed in many businesses for the forseable future. Most of those high tech products are being pushed on rests by food distributors - they aren't actually better tools or better foods - they are just a "NEW AND IMPROVED" version of the old bernaise sauce. Skilled workers of any kind usually have more leverage against bosses, cooks are no different. I imagine that the culinary culture of each region effects the conditions of food workers - here in the US with our addiction to fast food, the results have been terrible

I did enjoy reading the "abolish restaurants" comic, though I felt that it actively discouraged organizing by presenting an extreme left communist perspective.
In the long term, though, restaurants are nasty institutions that we should either abolish or transform.

Solidarity

martinh
Aug 18 2008 19:59

Some interesting points, though isn't what's really going on here the extension of the food factory into catering? In England there are loads of pubs which sell food. Often it is the same dishes, but the difference is in most the food is prepared in a factory somewhere and brought in, thus deskilling the kitchen staff whose only role is to reheat it and plate it up. At the top end of hte market there are pubs where someone does actually cook, and how much prep is done from raw ingredients (and the provenance of those ingredients) will directly affect the price.

Likewise there are very few chip shops that peel and cut their own potatoes any more- they buy it in pre-prepared. There is still a need for some skill in cooking proper chips, though wink

I think one thing that is happening here, though, is also a trend of fewer people eating at restaurants, and if they do they go somewhere cheap like MacDonalds or another chain. The supermarkets are pushing "top end" ready meals, to appeal to cash strapped restaurant goers.

I don't think the need for skills in cooking will ever go away, though. ALso, I kind of understand what you're getting at with "abolish restaurants", but the origin of restaurants is a profoundly civilised thing - people feeling safe enough in a public establishment to eat food they had no hand in.

Regards,

Martin

Kim Müller
Aug 19 2008 05:36

antichef - thanks for explaining the difference between chefs and cooks, I thougt it meant almost the same. I can see I am making a fool of myself then calling myself "the swedish chef", anyway, I work as a cook. But now I am off to work so I will have to give some more comments later on.

edgewaters
Aug 19 2008 13:49
martinh wrote:
the origin of restaurants is a profoundly civilised thing - people feeling safe enough in a public establishment to eat food they had no hand in.

Ignorance is bliss ...

antichef
Aug 19 2008 20:18
martinh
Aug 19 2008 21:43

Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to what's going on behind the scenes in many restaurants, but it's at least as bad in food factories, which are where most people get their food from if they don't cook themselves.

And the point about restaurants being profoundly civilised is that there was sufficient level of trust to sit down and be fed by strangers who wouldn't (deliberately) poison you.

Oh and Kim, in British English, chef as a word has 2 meanings, one of which is "the boss" a la celebrity chefs, which usually means restaurant owners and /or management bullies. The other is cook, usually implying some level of skill, rather than someone who just flips burgers. Of course with the adjective Swedish, it takes on an entirely different meaning (in my youth the only things I knew about Sweden were Abba and the Swedish chef..... )

Regards,

Martin

edgewaters
Aug 19 2008 23:20
martinh wrote:
Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to what's going on behind the scenes in many restaurants, but it's at least as bad in food factories, which are where most people get their food from if they don't cook themselves.

Very true! In fact, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the entire process of food production in our society, right from the initial production of crops and herds all the way to the table.

Food preparation is probably the least deadly element.

Steven.
Aug 24 2008 16:04
antichef wrote:

I did enjoy reading the "abolish restaurants" comic, though I felt that it actively discouraged organizing by presenting an extreme left communist perspective.

I don't think that is a fair statement...

Kim Müller
Aug 25 2008 07:11
martinh wrote:
Ignorance may be bliss when it comes to what's going on behind the scenes in many restaurants, but it's at least as bad in food factories, which are where most people get their food from if they don't cook themselves.

And the point about restaurants being profoundly civilised is that there was sufficient level of trust to sit down and be fed by strangers who wouldn't (deliberately) poison you.

The level of trust is also very "encouraged" by some rather strict law concerning the handling (and heating) of food. Sadly these laws are only concerned about not getting food poisoning and not at all about the quality of the food and the nutrition. At least in Sweden the laws not permits hot food to be transported long hours as long as it is under constant heating which makes small kitchens disappear from places like kindergardens and retirement homes. The law makes it rather expensive and hard for these places to hire a cook and most of the food is made in larger facilites under more industrial working conditions and then transported several hours.