The Empty Fridge: What do Cooks Eat at Home?

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chef or cook eating at home spokane washington the dish
“You’re a cook. You must eat the best food!”
“Your fridge must be full of all sorts of goodies!”
“You must eat so well at home!”

Actually, no.

It’s quite the opposite.

Among the many kitchen half-truths, one persists: cooks must eat well. After all, don’t they deal with top-notch product all day, honoring the bounty of local farms and stoically transmuting this cornucopia into pristine, Instagram-able pieces of art? Well, sometimes. But this bounty rarely travels home.

The fridge at home may have a few containers of culinary experiments, but there’s usually only beer and ten half-empty condiment bottles.

It’s weird…The cook’s fridge is mostly empty.


Relative to her profession, the cook is embarrassingly malnourished. Like the hotel employee who can’t afford one of the rooms she cleans, cooks often miss the very experience they break their backs to provide everyday: the pleasure and nourishment of (being served) food.

If we’re not trying to shovel-in a morsel of trimmings or leftover banquet scrap, come late night, you’re bound to find us hitting up taco trucks, kebab and grease stands; whatever savory late-nite eats are available. Not only are our diets usually poor, bookended with beer, fast food, and surprisingly creative scrapings from the pantry—sometimes meals are simply nonexistent. Outside of a few (typically unhealthy) snacks swallowed whole as the dinner rush allows, and a pot or two of diarrhea-inducing coffee, cooks simply don’t eat enough, let alone well.  

“You’re around food all day! How do you go hungry?”

Several reasons, but they come down to the usual suspects: time, money and energy—all of which are scarce for the career cook.

For one, we prepare food for a living. We cook all day & night, banging-out eight, twelve, sixteen hour shifts. The last thing we want to do is come home and stock the fridge for ourselves.  

Second, cooks are poorly paid. (At least proportionately.) A “living” wage is just that: you’ve enough money to get food, scrape-by on rent, and that’s about it. And even for the hours we cooks work, it isn’t enough. Kitchen-goers are almost always living, quite literally, paycheck-to-paycheck. Though the kitchen is rewarding in so many ways, it’s an entropic experience: pay is low to meager; hours are long; benefits are rare; genuine “thank you’s” are scarce; and the only real guarantee is stress and heat. But we thrive in that atmosphere.

In terms of managing money, many of us are very good at being very bad. For better or worse, no matter our expenditure, it’s almost never saving.  After rent, the utilities, caring for a family and keeping one’s prep and station stocked, financial prioritization is the last on our minds (or at least mine). Admittedly, even when there’s extra money, many of us aren’t great budgeters (outside recreational affinities). Hence the empty fridge. It’s never about what to do with money leftover—it’s more about utilizing leftovers.

The Life is feast-or-famine. When you’re “broke” you’re near homelessness. When you’re hungry, you’re near starving. When you’re paid, you’re spending. We complain and brag about the harshness of this industry. But we must still afford caffeine & smokes; enjoy after-work decompression drinks; and toys of all sorts.

Third, we often don’t have the time. There’s no getting extra minutes of daylight. It’s infinitely finite. The rigors of prep, unexpected staff call-outs, busy services, etc. all make stocking the fridge a low priority. There’re just too many things that take precedence: Holding down the station on a busy night; trying to mitigate burns and fuck-ups and wrong tickets while serving consistently-beautiful plates; and distinguishing calls from expo amidst banging plates, sizzling protein, shouting servers and a cacophony of humming and churning from hoods, grills and the dish pit. We are trying to survive. Eating will come later. And formal grocery shopping well after that. At least in theory.


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Ben Yerden

1 Comment

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    Great article indeed! What an irony, surrounded by food all day, serving guests the finest dishes, and yet, returning home to both an empty frog and stomach!

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