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Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Waldorf Astoria's Brigade de Cuisine Goes Hollywood

  Well ... not quite Hollywood (nor is it medieval or early modern), but this film is too great to put aside. It was created as part of a series in the 1960's, Americans at Work, which offered home audiences a chance to view inner workings of trades whose work usually occurred outside the public eye. In this episode, "Hotel and Restaurant Workers," they toured the kitchens and restaurants of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. With sometimes heavy-handed narration, the viewer can see different parts of the front- and back-of-house catering operation of the hotel. The workers and tools they are surrounded by are well worth a pause and look. 

 The series was funded by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations. It is possible to detect a pronounced desire on the part of the producers to change the minds of the 1960's American public, having them begin to associate jobs like waiter and maître d' with skilled professionals who carefully ply their specialized trade. The waiters, so the narrator tells us, are "trained for personal service, but they are no longer servants." For many viewers in the 1960's, servers and maître d's were relics of the crumbling world of large-scale private household service (for the European nobility etc.). Although the servile status of catering staff is largely gone today (or at least significantly modified), it was groups like the AFLCIO that put effort into changing peoples' perspective of cooks and waiters in the first half of the twentieth century. Preserved by the Prelinger Archives, currently located in San Francisco, this and many other videos were collected by Rick Prelinger as part of his desire to gather together American "ephemeral"  films including advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur videos of sociocultural weight. 
  I have been trying to resist posting it for ages because it isn't medieval or early modern, but it is such a great piece of vintage culinaria that I decided to post it for those interested in seeing a large brigade de cuisine in motion, and more generally, for those with interest in mid 20th-century professional kitchens. 

By: Ryan Whibbs

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