Anyone who has read Anthony Bourdain’s writing or watched a reality show—unless it’s MasterChef Australia, where everything is always scripted politeness—knows that kitchens are merciless hotspots where the knives, sharpened, of course, to a point, are always out. Temperamental, melodramatic, angry chefs are a bit of a trope—whether fictional, like P.G. Wodehouse’s Anatole, or real, like Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White. Popular culture has only glamourised this aspect of emotional chaos in the kitchen, out of which emerges the perfect dish and smiling service. In the perfection of the final plate, all abuse is forgiven.
It has all led to hostile behaviour and harsh working conditions being normalised, and for years, junior chefs, restaurant workers and wait staff have coped with anxiety and mental fatigue while putting on a smile for customers. The pandemic, however, has exacerbated the stress in professional kitchens and dining spaces—it’s no longer just about the heat of service but also the uncertainty that long closures have meant for jobs.
A few chefs and restaurateurs have recently taken to social media to talk about the kindness that’s lacking in the kitchen and the financial issues that have plagued not just the owners but also the staff. Erratic routines, long hours and physical exhaustion will remain part of the business but our big story this week examines whether the pandemic is actually a chance to bring compassion to the culinary world.
Food has turned out to be a thread running through this issue—restaurateurs who started selling packaged foods during the pandemic as a means to keep their heads above water have found that it’s a viable line of business and are expanding to help you create restaurant-style meals at home. And way before mango season, Nisha Susan pre-empts the many debates that will break out about the ruler among the king of fruit, arguing that we are always busy fawning over the mango at the expense of her favourite, the jackfruit. And if you are in the mood to enter the kitchen, there are recipes and suggestions for food you can create with kindness.
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