Line Cook/Prep Cook, Anywhere, USA
We are looking for an experienced line cook whose mental health is on a sliding scale of ‘everything’s fine’ to ‘help me’. In this position, your primary goal will be to not fuck up. To be successful in this role, the ideal candidate will work quietly enough we forget you are present. He/she will work quickly enough to generate a slight breeze, and have an agreeable personality so we will not think you are an a-hole. Serious candidates must be able to demonstrate the ability to endure, witness or take part in racist, sexist, and/or toxic masculine behavior. Chef mind reading capabilities are a plus, but not required.
Although this is an exaggeration, a culture of toxicity (amongst other things) was the norm and not the exception in many pre-pandemic restaurants. The Me Too Movement in 2017 and 2018 may have been the industry’s canary in the coal mine. That movement shed light on rampant sexism in the back of house, and named chefs like Mario Batali, John Besh and Ken Friedman were publicly outed for alleged sexual misconduct. In 2020, the demand for racial justice compounded by the inequities exposed by the pandemic, placed the entire restaurant industry under a new light. A brighter, harsher spotlight that exposed the rest of its deep-seated isms.
Today, restaurants face an unintended aftereffect of 2020 – a massive labor shortage. According to Forbes, 1.34 million industry jobs were available in April 2021. Some workers never returned after taking jobs outside the industry when restaurants closed during the height of the pandemic. Others were over the long hours, low wages, lack of medical benefits. Many were done with the vulnerability of the industry. Despite all of this, some owners and chefs clicked the lights on, dusted off their aprons, and headed back into the kitchen. A move that has some people are asking, why? Some people like TikTok food stars.
Months in quarantine without the convenience of restaurants, people turned to social media for cooking inspiration. What they found was Gen Z. Enterprising and tech savvy home cooks flooded social media with short and creative food videos. Recipes were based more on convenience and creativity than technique, but who cared? We were all in the house and in the house bored, and all those likes and shares created a new type of food star.
In May, The New York Times ran a piece called TikTok, the Fastest Way on Earth to Become a Food Star. In the article, Taylor Lorenz writes TikTok has “[Birthed] a new generation of cooking stars who didn’t put in years in a professional kitchen…and are often showcasing recipes they find online rather than developing their own.” 25.2 billion views of food related content has earned content creators quick fame and quick fortune. Some “up-and-coming” creators, Lorenz writes, are already pulling in six figures. That is a significant difference between the average chef salaries listed on Indeed.com. According to the website, the average chef salary in Des Moines is $49,000 and $53,000 average in Chicago.
I asked four industry veterans to weigh in. How do they feel about the quick fame and quick financial success of TikTok food stars? Many of whom have neither formal training nor the equivalent in professional culinary experience. Here’s what they had to say.