Cooking at elite restaurants is one of the most creatively and physically demanding jobs in the world. You’re constantly experimenting with new combinations of foods, looking for unusual and imaginative juxtapositions; reinventing ways of preparing familiar dishes; even developing new cooking methods (hello sous vide!). They have to turn creative breakthroughs into viable products: they must take something that took weeks to develop, and turn it into a dish that can be prepared by chefs on the line, night after night. Their work is open-ended: the quest for new dishes and ingredients and ways of cooking never stops.
Cooking also demands perfection, minute after minute, day after day. It’s physically and mentally exhausting; you’re working in a high-stress atmosphere. The industry gives a lot of power to chefs who are visionaries, and some of them use that freedom to be imaginative, inquisitive, curious, and perfectionist; others just turn difficult, demanding, and even abusive. It’s also a field that has more than its share of burnout, substance abuse, and other problems.
So it’s been fascinating to discover that some of the best restaurants in the world have recently started implementing 4-day weeks, hiring more staff to give cooks and staff more time off, and limiting working hours. In this episode, I draw on talks given by Maaemo chef Esben Holmoe Bang and Faviken chef Magnus Nilsson at the 2017 Food on the Edge conference in Galway, the explore this trend. It’s a fascinating part of the story of shortening working hours, and a real inspiration.
Somehow I missed the pun “putting the REST in ‘restaurant’.” Oh well, the moment has passed.
Discussed in this Episode:
- Quotes from Esben Holmoe Bang come from his 2017 talk at Food on the Edge (YouTube). Bang is the head chef at Maaemo, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Oslo, Norway.
- Quotes from Magnus Nilsson come from his 2017 talk at Food on the Edge (YouTube). Nilsson is head chef at Fäviken, a Michelin-starred restaurant in central Sweden.
- Ben Shewry talks about sustainability and cooking with Irish chef and TV presenter Darina Allen (YouTube). Shewry is head chef at Attica, one of Australia’s best restaurants. He also talks about moving to a four-day week in this article; he announced it in this Instagram post.
- Rene Redzepi served forest ant pesto in this 2018 talk show appearance (YouTube).