How the scruffy kids of the ’60s youth movement turned cooking from a shameful job into a lauded profession

Andrew Friedman in Longreads:

Acid-tv-tray2The dawn and rise of the American chef commenced when Americans, from coast to coast, and in large numbers, began voluntarily, enthusiastically cooking in restaurants for a living — a once forbidden and unrespected professional course — screw the consequences. Many started like Marder, spontaneously, rebelliously, often in isolation, with no idea there were others like them Out There. A few stuck their toes in the water in the 1960s, a few more in the 1970s, and then hordes jumped into the pool in the 1980s and ’90s, after which there was no looking back.

These weren’t the first American chefs, or even the first prominent ones. There had always been exceptions, like the astounding Edna Lewis, who for five years ending in 1954 had been the chef and a business partner at Café Nicholson in Midtown Manhattan— that she did this as both an African American and a woman in the 1950s is nothing short of miraculous. But those stories were few and far between, not part of an overarching national phenomenon. And the lower kitchen ranks were more often than not populated with lost souls who lacked ambition or the aptitude for a traditional career, weren’t pursuing a love of food and/or craft, or acting on Marder-like epiphanies, a version of which became a rite of passage for an entire generation. Professional cooking was viewed as menial, unskilled labor performed, often in unsavory conditions, by anonymous worker bees. The United States Department of Labor categorized chefs as domestics through 1976 when — after lobbying by the American Culinary Federation, who themselves required nudging by Louis Szathmary, the Hungarian American Chicago chef, writer, and television personality — it recognized them as professionals. Domestics suggests chauffeurs and housekeepers; most Americans regarded cooks as something grittier.

More here. [Thanks to Asad Raza.]