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Food Folklore in Australia: Restaurants

Eating out is a relatively new experience that started in earnest in the early 20th century and then continued to pick up speed. Prior to that eating establishments were more of a necessity than a destination for specific dining. Nowadays we accept eating out, in all its many expressions, as a normal part of our life. We have created folklore surrounding our restaurant experience including superstitions, custom, ritual etc.

As part of the Folklore of Sydney project, I decided to put a call out for folklore related to the commercial kitchen.

Here is the press release adapted and published on Australian Gourmet Pages and other food sites:


Warren Fahey is a man of words, a collector of anecdotes, a collator of folklore and a good bloke to boot. Heís currently obsessed with kitchen pranks and needs your input.

It seems commercial kitchens all over the world are a breeding ground for traditional pranks played on apprentices and new wait staff.

Have you heard about the new chum sent out for a ‘left-handed spatula’ or a bucket of ‘steam’? How about the kitchen hand asked to order some frozen duck legs – right legs only (they’re are better for confit)? Another was sent to a neighbouring restaurant to ask for a loan of their ‘bacon stretcher’.

Commercial kitchens are run like military bases and, maybe not surprisingly, there is a testing period for new workers, especially apprentices. Kitchens are stressful and, in some ways, dangerous places to work. Boiling water, high-temperature oils, meat hooks, unbelievably sharp knives, freezers etc all need to be reckoned with and one of the ways chefs ëtrainí their new arrivals is to test their endurance. Some are done for the sheer fun (fun for one can be a pain for another) and others are done because the chef needs to test how alert the new student is, and especially how they will cope in a crisis situation.

Warren Fahey would appreciate any contributions to his collection, and knowing some of my subscribers Iíd be surprised if there wasn’t a bucket load of them!

(issued 9 September 2005)