F*cking in the Kitchen

One Thanksgiving cooking video to go viral this year shows a white-haired lady—she could be a high school principal or your tomboy aunt—deliberately, emphatically dropping the F-bomb.

Turns out it's a serious cooking demo (despite some unfortunate warm-up bloopers and the unconvincing premise that turkey is inherently bad-tasting), in which San Francisco cooking-school owner Mary Risley seeks to calm viewers anxious about getting the iconic roast right. “Just put the fuckin’ turkey in the oven,” she says, the camera closing in on her face.

It’s a stunt, of course: grandma lobbing language you expect to dribble out of Lindsay Lohan’s mouth. Still, these days, does inserting fuck into an otherwise unremarkable sentence—or video, for that matter—give it raw power? Apparently, more and more of us in food media think it does.

Take the two-volume, 900-page Notes from a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession (publication date: December 8). Authors Jeff Scott and Blake Beshore set out to effect what the advance brochure calls “the re-envisioning of the modern American cookbook.” It probes the creative process of 10 chefs, including Sean Brock (Husk, McCrady’s), Johnny Iuzzini (Jean Georges), and Zak Pelaccio (Fatty 'Cue), in a format its advance press promises to be “visceral” and “cinematic.”

Superimposed on photo spreads, say, of Iuzzini wailing on a punching bag during a stress-relieving workout, a sort of “re-envisioning” of Ralph Macchio as the Karate Kid with tricep tats and a wallet chain, there are quotes from the chefs whose obsessions are supposed to grip you like the season's first flu. It’s Brock who deploys the F-word (in the book's prepublication brochure), igniting a dullish sentence about group foraging. “What’s cool is you get the kitchen crew out here and we forage around. ... That’s fucking team building.”

For sure, salty language is a publishing meme these days, and not just in books about the pressures of getting food to the table. But there’s something about the prolonged ascendancy of the rock-star chef, the tattooed brotherhood in modern restaurant kitchens, and the broader culture’s embrace of grainy-textured vérité that’s making fuck and shit almost commonplace in food talk.

It’s not like chefs are only now discovering swearing. When I started cooking in restaurants in the 1980s, my boss, an otherwise even-tempered female chef, called me a “fucking idiot” for preslicing an entire foie gras terrine one New Year's Eve before service (seriously, I was a fucking idiot). It’s that food writers and their editors have stopped censoring.

There’s Joe Beef’s David McMillan asserting that “guys should never be caught dead drinking cranberry fucking juice,” infamous fuck spouter Roy Choi talking up the soup from Han Bat Shul Lung Tang, and almost anything David Chang has ever said.

But how long before fucking is as drained of juice as amazingly, über-, and hella are? When will “that’s fucking team building” drop with the same lame thud as regular old “that’s team building” would? Mark my words, bro: won’t be fucking long.

Image source: Chef image from Shutterstock

John Birdsall is senior editor at CHOW. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.