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Appendix—Ethnography in the Kitchen:Issues and Cases

图书名称:Kitchens:The Culture of Restaurant Work
图书作者:Gary Alan Fine    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:1996年

Africa assailed my senses. I smelled and tasted ethnographic things and was both repelled by and attracted to a new spectrum of odors, flavors, sights, and sounds.
—Paul Stoller, The Taste of Ethnographic Things

Every setting has quirks, tricks, surprises. That is the challenge—and the fun—of participant observation. Veteran anthropologists who have studied several non-Western cultures know this well. What one learned about "getting on" in one site scarcely serves as a model for what to do in the next. Margaret Mead's Samoans provided little guidance for later examining the Manus of Papua New Guinea. For those mining American middle-class sites, less intrepid spies, like myself are at least comforted that the shared culture serves as a guide.

In studying kitchens two themes are salient: the research takes place in an organization, and it deals with the preparation of food. The former has challenged others before me, but the latter, relatively unstudied, presents novel issues.

Watching Work

Observers of a work organization must recognize that workers, however fond they may be of what they do, are not present in an entirely voluntary capacity. Employers expect workers at certain times and on a regular schedule. Further, workers belong to a hierarchical organization that can decide, under some circumstances, to terminate the association.

Because these spaces are not public arenas, access is provided through management; as a consequence, researchers will have, even in the most optimal circumstances, a burden of trust to overcome (Burawoy 1979). Whose side are we on (Becker 1967)? As a result, who I really represented was an issue, although one that became muted when it grew clear that I was not reporting to management.

The most direct expression of this sentiment occurred in the kitchen at the Blakemore, which as part of a hotel chain operated under direct, external corporate control. One day early in the research one of the kitchen workers whom I had not previously met, seeing me constantly jotting in my notepad, inquired if I was conducting a time study.

More often my role emerged in the context of joking and teasing, but always with underlying concern:

Davis, a server, jokes with me: "Who do you really work for? What hotel chain do you really work for?" Diane, one of the cooks, claims that I am a reporter for the National Enquirer .
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Paul, the head chef, jokes about me being a spy, adding that "he's watching to make sure we work."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

This became salient when I observed minor deviance, especially among low-status workers, who feared my power over their careers: "Felicia, a pantry worker, eats a piece of the roast beef that had been trimmed off and giggles when she sees me watching. She says to me laughing, but nervous: 'Are you going to put this in your book?' [Felicia, I have.] Later Lee, a dishwasher, takes some of the beef and jokes to me: 'Which part will we steal today.' I am expected to legitimate their deviance, or, better, to participate in it [I do]." (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). These workers trust that I will place myself on their side as a true, if limited, member of their group, embracing its underside. This was evident at Stan's, where cooks received beers from the bar. Once a waitress informed a cook that I noted this. He responded, "He's on our side. He's exposing the scandals of cooking" (Field notes, Stan's). As I gave them leeway, they returned the favor.

Only twice was I asked not to observe, both times during the early days of my observation. Stan's was featured on a local television show, and viewers were told that they would receive a special price on steak that weekend. The manager thought that the restaurant would be too crowded to observe. Later I was present on equally busy nights. At the Owl's Nest the head chef asked that I skip one day because a new server was being trained by observing the kitchen. However, later in the research, when another server was being trained, I was allowed to observe. I was accepted.

Although I was careful not to provide information to chefs and managers about particular workers, or even about how to improve the kitchen, these individuals had my ear when they wished and would query my general reactions. Workers might well worry about what I knew and what I might say. While I am confident that my comments did not have direct effects on individual workers or result in immediate changes in the kitchen structure, I may have oriented the concerns of managers or chefs by my presence or indirect comments.

Self-Reflection and Deprecation: Fine's Law of Shared Madness

Informants have images of themselves and their work. These self-images involve doubt, which becomes magnified when observed by an outsider. To defend themselves against the potentially critical eye of the researcher, informants typically display "role-distance" (Goffman 1961b), permitting them, in theory at least, to escape from some of the potentially negative implications of their activity. They need not fully justify their esoteric culture.

As I found among Little League baseball coaches, fantasy gamers, debate teachers, and mushroom collectors, informants suggested that they must be "crazy" to engage in their activity. This role-distance seems to be a fundamental regularity. "Fine's Law of Shared Madness" playfully proposes that in any adult research setting, informants explain that their activity is "irrational." Staff in each kitchen made similar comments:

Howie says to me: "Everyone knows you've got to be real mental to be a cook."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Mel, the day cook, jokes: "Did you learn that you didn't want to work in the kitchen?" A few weeks later Dan, the owner's son and the restaurant manager, jokes with me: "What have you learned? That you never want to enter the food business?"
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Candy, one of the waitresses, jokes about my observations on one very busy night: "Checking abnormal behavior? You'll definitely find it here. You're standing in the right place."
(Field notes, Stan's)

Irene, a former cook, asks Keith, a current cook, about me, joking: "You're giving him your memoirs?" Keith responds: "I'm the only guy who'll talk to him. The book will be Portrait of a Cook . I'll have my name up in lights. The movie will be filmed in an insane asylum."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

This same theme is evident among informants who saw me as a "psychologist" or "psychoanalyst," judging "are [they] crazy or sane?" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). Throughout ethnography, particularly in middle-class settings, informants desire to know "how good are we?" "how are we doing?" and "will we pass?" (Field notes, Owl's Nest).

Some jokingly attempted to mimic the ethnographic enterprise, sometimes discussing writing books:[1] "Gordon says to Cal and Dana: 'One day I'm gonna write a book, and then you guys are just going to be starring in it'" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). Or they would observe me: "Mel and Dan kid me: 'Now we're gonna ask you questions. What is the most interesting thing about your job?' They joke that they will do a study of researchers" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). This partially derives from my research style: I am overt about my presence, publicly taking notes, believing that the novelty of my role will wear off quickly as I am around every day. Daily research breeds familiarity, and openness is both more ethical and leads to more precise data, since memory tricks are minimized. Yet, this strategy leads to a justifiable desire to turn the tables.

The Plimpton Effect

One way in which my ambiguous presence was handled was through a continuing stream of joking, transforming me from researcher to worker, from observer to full participant (Adler and Adler 1987): the George Plimpton effect, after the journalist-essayist who briefly participated as a member of professional sports teams. On a few occasions I performed such undemanding manual labor as peeling potatoes, destringing beans, stirring soup, or retrieving food from shelves or coolers.

Denny, a cook at La Pomme de Terre, seriously suggests that "on your last day here we could let you cook some. It would be like George Plimpton."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Toward the end of my research Paul, the head chef, asks me if I would like to work the window tonight, saying "You've seen enough." He has seen the film Paper Lion and wants to put me into the George Plimpton role. I am tempted to agree, but it is not clear whether he is joking, and we don't pursue it.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Most often the attempts to involve me were jocular, indicating both my closeness and my distance. These remarks occurred in each restaurant:

The owner jokes to me as he is leaving for the night: "We'll make you mop next week. Everyone gets a job if they stay around long enough."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Evan jokes to me: "Why don't you take over. You've been trained in."
(Field notes, Stan's)

Willy, the stockroom manager, jokes to Sanjay, the food and beverage manager: "[If] he stays around long enough, we're gonna put him to work."
(Field notes, Blakemore)

Paul jokes to me as he is cutting meat: "You've watched me long enough, now you've got to try it."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Like the desire to involve the researcher in occupational deviance, a strong drive exists, helpful for research, to allow—or demand—the observer to participate in all aspects of the scene: in part from a desire to help make the experience transparent and in part to cope with the frustration of seeing the researcher standing around, watching, "doing nothing."

Sharing Food

One way that workers attempt to gain the allegiance of a researcher is to provide organizational perquisites: pleasant little bribes. This is an extension of the "gift" of information that informants give. To accept a gift is to remain in the giver's thrall until one reciprocates. Cooks do this with goods that technically are not theirs to give but belong to their bosses: food. Food was continually pressed on me, and, perhaps to my discredit, I rarely refused. During each month that I observed in the kitchens, I gained approximately ten pounds, which I diligently attempted to lose in the two months between observations. Even had I wished to refuse the offers, my friends were expecting me to taste their wares, and this occasionally was a learning experience. Attempts to ply me with food were most notable at La Pomme de Terre and the Owl's Nest, the better restaurants. Perhaps because steak is expensive and because the preparation was routine, I was not given as much at Stan's, although french fries and onion rings were offered, and when a steak was returned, it was shared. At the Blakemore food was more carefully monitored, and the better dishes were prepared in the "display kitchen." However, even there I was offered coffee, drinks, and an occasional "nibble."

The staff at La Pomme de Terre was particularly generous. During my first evening I was offered snapper Provençale, spicy sausage, lemon balm sorbet, elderberry sorbet, and chocolate cake. A few days later Davis, a room captain, gave me a large slice of cheesecake, an offer I felt rather embarrassed about. He started by asking me if I have a family. When I told him I do, he insisted I take it because they will throw it out otherwise. While they were being generous, the underlying assumption is that I would only refuse the food if I didn't like it and them .

The situation was more complex at the Owl's Nest, where food was supposed to be accounted for, and where staff members were expected to pay for their meals. While I was given food, it was often done with a wink and teasing remarks that I would be charged:

Paul offers me salmon for dinner, adding "You must get hungry standing around." He adds: "Between you and me and the fence post," meaning that I should not mention his largesse.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

Bruce gives me a plate of salmon sorbise , and Paul jokes: "That will be ten dollars." Later he adds: "Don't steal the hash browns again."
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

These comments reflect a tension in our relationship, common in ethnography, about the researcher using and being used by informants. These cooks liked me, and I became, in some measure, a member of the group; yet, simultaneously I was and would remain an outsider, potentially affecting their lives and reputations. By bribing me and telling me about their lives, they hoped to gain my support. Because they work in scenes that they do not entirely control, and because I have access to those who control them, they were at my mercy. I, in turn, was at their mercy to the degree that I was allowed to operate, briefly and marginally, as one of them.

Ethnographic Sense

As the anthropologist Paul Stoller (1989) cogently notes, contemporary Western thought has given primacy to the visual mode, particularly in academic writing (but see Corbin 1986). For those exploring distant cultures the experience of the other senses is central: "Naked children defecating into the ditches which carried the city's sewage; clouds of aromatic smoke rising from grills on which butchers roasted mouth-watering slices of mutton; dirt roads rendered impassible by rat-infested hills of rotting garbage; gentle winds carrying the pungent smell of freshly pounded ginger; skeletal lepers thrusting their stump-hands in people's faces" (Stoller, 1989, p. 3). One not only reads social structure but also hears, touches, smells, and tastes it. Yet, because of our Western training, we find that we easily misplace these skills of understanding. We are taught what to see and, implicitly, taught what we should not sense. Stoller (1989, p. 4) reflects:

My sensual openness, however, was shortlived. I quickly lost touch with those scenes of abject deprivation which blended into those of insensitive consumption. I soon lost scent of the nose-crinkling stench of the open sewer that gave way to the aromatic aromas of roasting meat. My ears soon deafened to the moans of a sick child that were overwhelmed by the happy laughter of a healthy one. I had become an experience-hardened Africa hand. My immersion in Niger, in Africa, had been, in short, distanciated, intellectualized—taken out of the realm of sensual sentiment. The world of ethnographic things had lost its tastes.

We become so taken with the reality of the world that we have learned to experience that we forget to notice the world that we are experiencing . For this research, my attempt to remain sensitive to the challenges of senses was critical. If not as dramatic as the sewers of Niger, the kitchens of Minnesota had their share of distinct smells, touches, sounds, and tastes. The challenge was learning from these senses: to let, in the words of one cook, "the kitchen talk to you." As I describe in chapter 2, when I discuss the timing of food preparation, these senses are critical to the competent doing of cuisine. Done food has a different smell from burned or underdone food, and these smells are clues for the ethnographer.

A second element of the ethnography of senses is to avoid imposing one's own taste on one's informants. The rejection of "proper" food can be a means of differentiating insiders from outsiders. Craig Claiborne's mother ran a rooming house in Indianola, Mississippi, where the social psychologist John Dollard happened to stay while researching his admirable Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1949). As Claiborne (1982, pp. 32–33) recalls Dollard's tastes, "In the beginning [Dr. Dollard] criticized the cooking of the greens, complaining that there was not a vitamin left in the lot. And as a result of his well-intentioned explanations and at the base encouragement of the other boarders, my mother willingly committed one of the most wicked acts of her life. Dr. Dollard was placed at a bridge table, covered, of course, with linen and set with sterling, and he was served a mess of raw greens that he ate with considerable and admirable composure and lack of resentment." His northern taste almost prevented him from understanding the society that he had chosen to examine. As a promiscuous eater, I did not have Dollard's problem, but occasionally I would be given something to taste, because a cook wanted to know if I judged it as he did. Workers within the kitchen would no doubt gauge its quality with certainty, but I often had to guess whether the food would be judged a success or a failure. I recall particularly a highly and oddly spiced sausage served to me at La Pomme de Terre, which could be fairly described as "distinctive," a basil-cantaloupe sorbet that sticks with me still, and a beet fettucini with herbed tomato sauce that was dubbed an abject failure. An observer should not like everything but must develop tastes similar to those whom he or she is studying.

What Is a Cook?

What is a cook? Who is a cook? To this point I have investigated culinary structure and interaction, without addressing the characteristics of those who labor in the kitchen or the characteristics of the specific restaurants themselves. I first describe the workers (see also Fine 1987b for a discussion of the attitudes of cooks to their profession and of their recruitment and socialization); then I turn to a detailed description of the four restaurants that I observed.

My sample is neither random nor representative. It is, in many ways, a convenience sample: four restaurants in the upper stratum of restaurants in the Twin Cities area. Yet, examining the attributes of the sample of cooks at least opens a window into an obscure social world.


When examining census data, one discovers, surprisingly, that 57.2 percent of all cooks are female (Bureau of the Census 1984, p. 11), but this statistic is deceptive when considering restaurant life, as it includes those areas of cooking in which females predominate—institutional cooking, diners, and local cafés. Census data from the Twin Cities metropolitan area indicate that in 1980 the approximately fourteen thousand cooks, excluding short-order cooks, were almost evenly divided by gender (51 percent male versus 49 percent female). However, among the higher-status restaurants I examined, males predominated. Of the thirty cooks interviewed, only four were females (13 percent). None of these women had positions of authority. Although significant change has occurred in the past decade, in the higher-status end of the restaurant industry, males dominate. Women, while sometimes accepted (Fine 1987a), are a small minority, remaining outsiders. Although women bear the primary responsibility for cooking for the family, in institutional spaces and modest establishments, cooking that involves creativity and high-volume service, or at prestigious dining places, is typically defined as a job for men.


The census figures for 1980 reveal that cooking has one of the youngest median ages of any occupation. The median age for cooks in the Twin Cities metropolitan area was only 19.2 years, with only about one-eighth of all cooks over 30 years of age. Rather than parents cooking for their children, in restaurants the relations are reversed. This includes entry-level positions and kitchen workers at fast-food establishments. My sample was slightly older than this average but still quite young. The median age was 25, with a mean of 24.5. Only one of the cooks in the sample was older than 40 (he was 43). I asked one young cook what he felt that the general public would be most surprised by. He answered without hesitation that it would be that "people cooking are so young" (Personal interview, Stan's). Most of the cooks at Stan's, admittedly younger than at the other restaurants, were too young to drink legally. Cooking is demanding, low-wage employment, even under the most favorable circumstances; it is not surprising that few see cooking as suitable long-term employment. Kitchen labor is a transitional occupation for young men until they decide on a "real" career. Some enter management (a personal career goal for several cooks); others see cooking as temporary and transfer to other occupations.

Education and Family Background

Only three (10 percent) of the cooks that I interviewed had college degrees; another eight (27 percent) had attended some college. Obviously the nature of the sample affects this figure considerably. Some evidence exists that as restaurant work is becoming more prestigious, the educational level of cooks and chefs may slowly be increasing (Zukin 1990). With the upgrading of the image of the cook, more cooks are recruited from the middle class, at least in better restaurants in urban centers; many of these individuals see themselves as part of the arts infrastructure and dream of opening their own establishments (Zukin 1990). My small sample includes cooks from a wide variety of class backgrounds, including children of truck drivers, postal clerks, firemen, bankers, and certified public accountants. In general, the class background tends to be from the lower middle class or upper working class, although the variability is so great that extreme caution is warranted in making generalizations.

Restaurant Settings and Data Sources

To understand a topic ethnographically, one should select more than a single scene. Generalizability is important. Before I began this research, I had observed a hotel and restaurant cooking program at City Technical Vocational Institute (City TVI), now called City Technical College, and I was in the midst of less-intense "comparative" ethnography at Suburban Technical Vocational Institute. I wanted to understand how working-class students acquired the "cultural capital" to engage in aesthetic production (Fine 1985). I hoped to address the practical usage of aesthetic knowledge.

To gain a more complete vision of the restaurant industry, and, in particular, how students are compelled to transform their "idealism" into the real world of organizational requirements, I selected four restaurants to continue the research. At City Technical Vocational Institute the program was a long-standing one, and the four instructors had each taught at the school for a decade. I selected restaurants that had hired head chiefs—or, in one case, a manager—who had attended this program.

In addition to selecting restaurants by their connection with City TVI, I also wanted to observe restaurants that employed similar numbers of cooks. I wanted each kitchen staff to be a small group. Some restaurants have extensive staffs, and others require only two or three cooks. I chose restaurants that employed approximately eight cooks, of whom three or four were on duty at any time. Finally, I desired a set of restaurants that represented diverse cooking styles. My goal was not to select the "best" restaurants in the Twin Cities or the ones with the most articulate chefs. I sacrificed artistic rhetoric for the mundane discourse found in most kitchens.

For my sample I selected a haute cuisine restaurant (La Pomme de Terre), a continental restaurant (The Owl's Nest), a steakhouse (Stan's), and a hotel kitchen (the Blakemore Hotel). These four restaurants provided a reasonable range of cooking environments. I make no claim that these four restaurants reflect a representative sample of all local restaurants; clearly they do not. They represent the upper portion of Minnesota restaurants in terms of status: they are not "ethnic," family, fast-food, or neighborhood restaurants; nor are they glorious temples of haute cuisine, such as are found in New York or New Orleans.

I approached each restaurant by contacting the man who had been trained at City TVI. At Stan's this was the manager (the owner's son), and at the other three restaurants it was the head chef.[2] After explaining that I was a professor at the University of Minnesota, had conducted related research, and had just finished my observations at City TVI, mentioning the names of the instructors, I emphasized that I was interested in understanding the work challenges faced by cooks. Cooks, like many workers, feel singularly underappreciated, and these men were flattered that an outsider, a professor, would be interested in their careers. Like many ethnographic informants, they were somewhat nervous about what I might discover, but each agreed to my presence in their kitchen for a month although they maintained the right to ask me to terminate the research temporarily or permanently. I eventually became friends with each of them.

After receiving their approval, I arranged to speak to the manager or owner.[3] I emphasized that I had the chef's approval and explained that I would not evaluate their restaurant, either for them or for publication. I wished to stand quietly in the kitchen, watching and learning.

I indicated that if they felt that my presence interfered with the running of their business, they could ask me to leave. The owner at La Pomme de Terre quickly agreed, as did the manager at the Owl's Nest (the son of the owner). The food and beverage manager at the Blakemore requested a formal letter stating the goals of my research. When I presented that documentation, he agreed readily.

Upon receiving the approval of the manager, I selected a day to begin my research. I chose a time that would not be busy, so that I could meet with each cook and explain my research goals. I informed them that they did not have to participate if they did not wish, but no one refused. All those whom I asked to be interviewed agreed. Like the head chefs, they were flattered that someone of "importance" was interested in their lives.[4]

During my stay at the restaurant, I attempted to be present six days each week (three were open seven days a week), and I attempted to stagger my observation times, so that I witnessed the kitchen at each time of the day. I also attempted to be present for special events and on particularly busy evenings. In each kitchen I found a place to observe that avoided traffic and afforded a good view. While I did not often help with the kitchen work, on occasion I did small tasks when asked. I avoided times of the year that would be particularly busy (November or December) or especially slow (July or August), in order to capture the normal routine of cooking.

I spent a month observing in the kitchen of each restaurant and then interviewed all the full-time cooks for a total of thirty in-depth interviews. Each interview lasted from one to three hours and covered the cook's background, recruitment to cooking, attitudes toward work and the restaurant, and the aesthetics of cooking. Most interviews were conducted in the respondent's home, but a few took place in quiet areas of the restaurant or in other public places. Details of the research are included in table 1.




La Pomme

Owl's Nest



No. of days observing





No. of hours observing





No. of interviews





Months in kitchen





Each restaurant is unique. Although these restaurants differ from each other in their production dynamics and social placement, I have avoided treating them separately, ignoring their idiosyncratic dynamics. I doubt the utility of a single case study. Stan's differs from La Pomme in much more than the cuisine—to contrast a "typical" gourmet restaurant with a "typical" steakhouse would mislead. A set of similar cases are required for a meaningful contrast between steakhouses and gourmet restaurants or, for that matter, between hotel kitchens and freestanding restaurants. My interest was not in how any of these idiosyncratic establishments operate but the social processes that link all restaurants. Despite my caution in using each individual restaurant to stand for a restaurant "type," the interested reader deserves a description of each restaurant.

La Pomme de Terre

La Pomme de Terre had the reputation of being one of the finest, most creative haute cuisine restaurants in the Twin Cities area. Some restaurant reviewers, perhaps tinged by local boosterism, claimed that La Pomme de Terre was the best restaurant between Chicago and California. Perhaps. Partisans of other restaurants in the Twin Cities might dispute whether La Pomme de Terre is the best restaurant in the Twin Cities, but no one would doubt that at the time of the research it had an enviable reputation. Each night the restaurant offered two fish specials, occasionally a meat special, two soups, and several sorbets and desserts. These specials included such comestibles as beef Wellington with wild mushrooms, monkfish in a peach beurre blanc, cumin-lamb sausage, or sole turban. The restaurant was known for high prices although by no means as high as those of restaurants on either coast. In the mid-1980s, one could eat well at La Pomme de Terre for under forty dollars per person.

The head chef, Tim, was born and raised near Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the child of a middle-class, midwestern family. At fifteen he was hired at a local truck stop, first washing dishes and then cooking. Evaluating job possibilities after high school, Tim relocated to the Twin Cities to learn to cook at City TVI. After TVI he worked at a "home-style" restaurant, several country clubs, a Chinese restaurant, finally landing an entry-level job at La Pomme de Terre. Along the way he had decided that he wanted to be a gourmet chef, even though his previous employment had not prepared him for this goal. Tim was both hardworking and creative, and spent much time in La Pomme's kitchen, learning all that he could from the European-trained head chef. A few years later that chef left in a personality conflict with the owner, and Tim was asked to run the kitchen, in part, he claims, because he was cheap labor. This proved to be a great challenge for an unknown chef, then in his midtwenties. Tim triumphed in his new position, and the restaurant enhanced its reputation.

The restaurant itself was located on the ground floor of an elegant apartment building, lately turned into condominiums. One must walk through the lobby to reach the restaurant. While the lobby is pleasant, it is often deserted during the dinner hour. This odd location, with its low overhead, permits the restaurant to survive, serving fewer than one hundred customers on busier nights and perhaps two dozen customers when slower. The restaurant was open for lunch and dinner during the week, dinner on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The brunch was eventually canceled.

The kitchen was quite spacious, particularly compared to the two other freestanding restaurants. Cooks worked in a large, bright, airy rectangular room, with space for movement and separate areas for pastry work and salad preparation. The waiters and dishwashers worked on the other side of this large room and rarely interfered with the cooks. The dining room was decorated in muted tones of gray and cream, understated and tasteful.

La Pomme de Terre was owned and operated by a husband and wife; the husband had been a marketing vice-president for a large corporation before deciding to enter the restaurant business in the late 1970s. At the time of the research he was planning to open other restaurants in the Twin Cities. La Pomme de Terre is located within a short walk of some of the premium cultural attractions of the Twin Cities, within an area that has an artistic, yuppie, and gay ambiance.

One of the restaurant's major problems was that it did not have a liquor license permitting it to serve hard liquor, although it did maintain an excellent wine cellar, especially well stocked with California vintages. As a consequence, La Pomme lost some business clientele.

In addition to the head chef, the restaurant employed a sous chef, a day cook, and a pastry cook; three other cooks prepared salads, soups, or worked the ovens and grills, depending on need. Of these seven employees, two were women. One of these cooks was fully accepted (see Fine 1987a), but the other was marginal to the kitchen community. This woman had not been formally trained as a cook but had been a schoolteacher who had switched careers. Because of her knowledge of food and her enthusiasm, Tim had decided to hire her but soon regretted the decision. According to him, she never acquired the skills of a professional cook and was terminated.

The cooks employed by La Pomme de Terre were, perhaps not surprisingly, more interested in food as art and more committed to the aesthetic presentation of foodstuffs than cooks at the other restaurants. Tim claimed to look less for impressive résumés than for those who were creative and hardworking, and who, he felt, had a drive to succeed. Within a few years after my observations, at least two of the cooks had become head chefs in important Twin Cities restaurants, and the pastry chef was well-known in the Twin Cities for her remarkable creations.

The servers were all male with the exception of one female. The servers—and, to a degree, the cooks—had more cultural capital than the staff at the other restaurants. In general, the staff worked well together and would occasionally go drinking after a hectic weekend evening.

The Owl's Nest

Like La Pomme de Terre, the Owl's Nest was blessed and cursed by its location. The restaurant, opened in 1964, was situated on a main thoroughfare connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, a street of car lots, decaying businesses, second-tier shopping centers, pornography boutiques, Asian groceries, and various minor public offices. Its location, approximately five minutes from the state capitol and ten minutes from downtown St. Paul, coupled with its patina of 1960s elegance and low overhead, permitted success. The Owl's Nest was a continental restaurant from a period when that term implied a luxurious dinner for many midwesterners. Prior to my observations, the head chef, who had previously worked in a large hotel kitchen, had revised the menu, adding more fish dishes to replace the beef that was increasingly out of fashion. Paul, the head chef, explained that about 70 percent of the orders were seafood. The prices were comfortably high, as they catered to a class of well-to-do businessmen, often on expense accounts. Luncheon was the most profitable meal, although they were open evenings Monday through Saturday. The Owl's Nest was best known for their Caesar salad, prepared tableside by a male house captain, London broil, and the various fresh-fish dishes, such as walleyed pike aux fines herbes or sautéed scallops meunière . The restaurant also had an adequate wine list and bar service.

The Owl's Nest had been operated for twenty years by the same family, and for many years it was one of the two or three most elegant restaurants in the Twin Cities. During my research its former competitors were closing for lack of customers. Its plush, dark, clubby interior contrasted with the airy openness and postmodern bricolage coming into vogue. Yet, in light of its goals the Owl's Nest was well respected. Its clientele included the political and business elite of the state, and its entrance was filled with framed certificates, indicating its multiyear status as a Holiday Award recipient. It was not a place dear to the artistic and cultural elites, who were more likely to patronize La Pomme de Terre or a local bistro. Despite snide comments by this elite this once-stylish restaurant served the needs of its upper-middle-class business clientele with well-prepared continental dishes.

Paul, the head chef, was a child of middle-class St. Paul parents. After graduating from high school, he attended City TVI, where his brother teaches. He thought that he would enjoy working with food, even though he hadn't had a cooking job, and he enrolled in the restaurant program. Most of his career was spent in a hotel kitchen—of a hotel in the same chain as the Blakemore. There he was eventually promoted to sous chef but decided to leave the hotel when management offered to promote him to executive chef without any increase in salary. In time he took the proffered position but was unhappy with the arrangement. When he received a call from the owner of the Owl's Nest, he accepted the offer, at a higher salary. He had been at the Owl's Nest for about eighteen months at the time of my observations.

Paul's staff consisted of six other cooks and two regular pantry workers. Trained at City TVI, Paul was a strong believer in vocational education, and five of his cooks had graduated from those programs. All cooks were men, but one of the pantry workers was female. Desserts were not created in the restaurant but purchased from outside vendors.

In general, the staff was friendly although there was friction during my observation because of the temper of one cook and problems with a lack of space in the kitchen and a confusion of organizational responsibility. Eventually Paul held a kitchen meeting to thrash out differences, which seemed to have a positive effect, at least temporarily. The cooks had to work in a very narrow area, with stoves close together. The cook who worked the window was in charge of the grill and would continually interfere with the cook on the stove and the one doing preparation work. This was complicated by the fact that the potmen and the pantry workers operated in the same narrow area. For reasons of space it was almost impossible for the servers to enter the kitchen for any purpose, except at slow times. Most communication was through a small window on one side of the dining room. The majority of the servers were female although the house captains were male.

The owner and particularly his son, who managed the restaurant, were often present, and while they afforded the head chef considerable leeway, their presence was notable. The son was on good terms with the cooks and would occasionally take them fishing.


Thank you, God, for blessings
That often come our way,
The things we take for granted
But don't mention when we pray.

And thank you, God, for all the folks
Who stop to eat and share,
Who give us all a chance to serve
And show how much we care!
—printed on Stan's menu

During the food revolution of the 1980s, steakhouses were not exactly trendy, particularly those like Stan's that aspired to little more than providing simple, hearty pleasure, without becoming a bizarre theme park. Stan's affected no Western motif, no hyper-macho bric-a-brac. It was, and is, a plain, comfortable restaurant without a conscious subtext. On a busy night Stan's might serve over six hundred customers in its rabbit warren of rooms. Many customers were middle-aged, lower middle class, and frequently from the unpretentious neighborhood in which Stan's was located. Stan's was known throughout the Twin Cities as a very good, moderately priced establishment, not as elegant as some local steakhouses but a restaurant that had won multiple awards for the quality of its meat. During the period in which I observed, Stan's was featured on a local entertainment show, and viewers were offered a special deal on steak if they would mention the show. For the next week the restaurant was mobbed.

Stan's was comfortable with its simple decor, long bar, community of young and older waitresses (there were no male servers), and regular customers. While open for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, and dinner on Saturday, its Sunday-afternoon "dinner" (3:00 P.M.–10:00 P.M.) was distinctive, catering to the "cardiac crowd." Here senior citizens ventured out for a special afternoon meal. On Sundays, orders of steak gave way to chicken or fish. Beef cuts included New York strip, sirloin, baby back ribs, hamburger, and butterfly-cut steak. These were supplemented with fried chicken, scallops, salmon steak, french fries, and onion rings. Most entrees during the early to mid-1980s sold for under ten dollars.

Stan's had been open since the 1940s and was operated by the same family for nearly twenty years. The owners were actively involved in operating the restaurant, which made the structure of Stan's quite different from La Pomme de Terre and the Owl's Nest. On a day-to-day basis Stan's was run directly by the manager, the owner's son, a City TVI graduate. This structure is reflected in that the "official" title of the lead chef was "head cook" although Doug called himself "chef." Doug shared responsibility for ordering food with Charles, the owner's son. It was Charles, and his father, who selected the menu and prices.

Doug's only restaurant experience, other than cooking at the state fair, was at Stan's. He had worked at Stan's for nearly fifteen years, starting as a cook's helper, later doing dishwashing and busing. At that time his grandmother worked at the restaurant, so he had an in. He had had no dreams of cooking, but as he described it, "I found I like this work fairly well, and it didn't disagree with me" (Personal interview, Stan's). He did not plan to leave Stan's. Doug had had no formal culinary training and had no plans to get any. The other cooks were young men with the exception of one older woman, a longtime employee who helped Doug at lunchtime.

The cooks who worked on the weekends and in the evenings were good friends, mostly in their late teens or early twenties, and would occasionally party together, sometimes with waitresses or dishwashers. Some of these men had TVI training, but few saw cooking as a permanent occupation. The kitchen was structured so that typically three or four cooks were on duty at any time, with one operating the fryer, a second the grill, and a third the ovens. Working the grill was more desirable than the other two positions. Unlike the other restaurants, the cooks at Stan's were hired as dishwashers or busboys, and when there was an opening for a cook, a higher-paid occupation, they made a casual switch. Unlike other restaurants, sharp divisions did not exist among the staff, other than the fact that the occupations were gendered: women were servers, and males cooked, bused, washed dishes, and poured drinks at the bar.[5] There was an easy exchange relationship, and cooks received an occasional beer in return for the odd steak.

The main kitchen area was rectangular with a large metal table in the middle of the floor. The cooks and servers worked on opposite sides of the room. When ready, dishes were placed on shelves above the table. Because of the large number of customers, coupled with the need for turnover in the restaurant and the close proximity of servers and cooks, friction occasionally emerged as servers would demand or wheedle their dishes from cooks who felt overworked and underpaid in contrast to the waitresses, who received good tips. Because of the fryer and the grill, Stan's kitchen was the most "fragrant" and the greasiest. While I observed in the middle of a Minnesota winter, I heard that during the summer the kitchen could be unbearable.

The Blakemore

Hotel kitchens often do not get much respect; such was certainly the case at the Blakemore Hotel. One of a chain of hotels in the Twin Cities, the restaurants at the Blakemore were not judged to be among the premier dining places in the cities, even by hotel standards. The hotel was relatively new, located downtown, catering primarily to business travelers. Its location was not propitious for success, as it was within several blocks of several other hotels, including a second hotel of the same chain. The Blakemore was the smaller and less prestigious of the two.

The Blakemore operated a coffee shop, a restaurant with a display kitchen, a banquet service, and room service. The coffee shop was open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week; the restaurant was open for lunch and dinner from Monday through Saturday. On holidays such as Easter or Mother's Day the restaurant opened for a Sunday brunch. The restaurant—an airy, flower-filled area off the lobby, partitioned from hotel traffic—maintained an open "presentation kitchen" in which food was prepared to order for the entertainment of customers. Most food was typical hotel fare—updated examples of the hotel plates that William Foote Whyte (1948) saw prepared in Minneapolis in the 1940s: veal marsala, stuffed trout, shrimp Provençale, and rack of lamb. Prices were generally comparable to the Owl's Nest, with those of most entrées ranging from ten to fifteen dollars. During my observation, business in both the coffee shop and the restaurant was disappointingly slow, frequently with fewer than three dozen customers a night. The kitchen staff had recently been cut, eliminating the popular sous chef. The main source of business, other than breakfast in the coffee shop, was the banquet service. Most nights the kitchen prepared at least one banquet for up to three hundred customers. The hotel served traditional banquet foods such as baked chicken, broccoli, and baked potatoes. Most desserts were provided by outside suppliers. Unlike other restaurants, the Blakemore frequently relied on prepared foods such as a mousse mix, instant mashed potatoes, or precooked chicken Kiev.

The structure of this hotel kitchen was more bureaucratic than the other restaurants. Sharply drawn lines of authority existed, leading from the hotel manager to the food and beverage manager to the executive chef. A separate employee was in charge of the storeroom, and foods had to be signed out to maintain cost control. Workers were expected to punch in and were not paid for overtime unless it was formally approved, which was rare in this period of budget cutting. There was relatively little contact between the cooks, servers, and potwashers-dishwashers: each group maintained its own social system. The servers were female, the potwashers-dishwashers and cooks mostly male.[6] As at the Owl's Nest and Stan's, employees at the Blakemore were unionized, but at no other restaurant was there an equivalent level of strain between the kitchen workers and management. Most workers were alienated from their work and indicated little organizational loyalty. In addition, although some personal friendships existed among the staff, the level of community found at the other three restaurants was not present at the Blakemore.

The Blakemore's kitchen was huge and much space was unused. This spatial structure separated workers from each other and decreased communication. While the space might have seemed luxurious, and necessary for banquet preparations, it had a deleterious effect on kitchen functioning.

The executive chef, Denver, was raised in the Twin Cities and attended the University of Minnesota long enough to get a two-year Associate of Arts degree. After becoming frustrated at the university, he decided to try City TVI. He had no occupational goals but knew a friend who had enjoyed the cooking program, and so he decided to enroll. When we met, he had been cooking professionally for ten years, mostly in hotel kitchens, catering, and country clubs. Occupational mobility was such that by the time that Denver was in his early twenties, he was a chef, and he continued to change positions as new opportunities arose. He had recently finished a stint as executive chef at a motel, during which he had received an offer from the Blakemore, a larger hotel.

Unlike the chefs at the other three restaurants, Denver was neither well liked nor respected by his staff. Several cooks had been on staff before he was hired, and they preferred the sous chef who had been recently laid off. The basic complaints of his eight-person staff was that Denver was rarely around when needed, and that he didn't help as much as they wished. His claim was that he was hired as executive chef and did not have responsibility for line cooking. He did help some but not enough to gain the allegiance of his staff, several of whom were bitter about his "laziness." The Blakemore was not a happy kitchen, as Denver didn't much like his superiors and wasn't sure that he would remain or be allowed to remain. The cooks were dispirited about the workload. For its part, management was disappointed by the performance of the restaurant, which was barely breaking even, despite the cutbacks. It was not surprising that shortly afterward, a new chef was hired, and soon after the chain sold the hotel to another chain.


1. Tim, the head chef at La Pomme de Terre, was particularly interested in my research because he had been seriously thinking of writing a book. He had planned to compile a book of recipes that would be autobiographical. He pressed me about how publishers work and about the audience for my book.

2. Stan's was the second steakhouse I contacted. I had called, and then met, a City TVI-trained chef at another steakhouse and obtained his approval for my research. He informed me that he would have to clear it with his manager, which he assured me would pose no problem. Later when I called him, he told me that the manager was afraid that my presence might be disruptive. This underlines the rule that a researcher should never let anyone else make his or her case.

3. At Stan's I had gained the approval of the manager first and then spoke with the head "cook," who had less authority than the chefs at the other restaurant. While he had the power to reject my proposal, the support of his manager made this less likely. In turn, I had to be careful to establish good relations with him, so I would not appear to be an agent of his manager.

4. Sometimes ethnographers forget about their status with some working-class people. I was surprised to learn at the Blakemore that one of the pantry workers whom I had met and chatted with was so impressed that she had talked with a "professor" that she called her best friend, who also worked at the restaurant, at 1:00 A.M. (after work) to describe her meeting. My status was, no doubt, magnified by the reality that some of these employees (especially pantry workers or washers) had low educational achievement, and some were developmentally disadvantaged. break

5. The servers at Stan's also prepared the salads, and desserts were purchased from vendors outside the restaurant.

6. Two of the cooks at the Blakemore were female. These were two of the better cooks but also the most dissatisfied. Neither felt that she had any real chance for advancement in the hotel kitchen. Both felt that the hotel and the managers discriminated against women in subtle or overt ways.

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