If working 40 hours a week tires you out, MacKenzie Arrington isn’t impressed.
Arrington is a New York City cook featured in an adapted excerpt published on Thrillist from Ina Yalof’s book “FOOD AND THE CITY: New York’s Professional Chefs, Restaurateurs, Line Cooks, Street Vendors, and Purveyors Talk About What They Do and Why They Do It.”
The 26-year-old, who spent time working as a cook at restaurateur David Chang’s prestigious Momofuku Má Pêche, explains that an 80-hour-week is typical for a cook in New York — and they don’t do it for the money.
Because New York City is considered the culinary epicentre of the US within the food industry, Arrington explains that young cooks will do just about anything to get in the game.
Cooks in the city get paid nothing. Or next to nothing. My theory on that is this: the best restaurants in the world are in New York City, and everyone knows that, so they want to work here. Half the cooks in New York work for free. They get a shot at a restaurant like Eleven Madison Park, which is the best in the city, so they’re happy to work for free. But what about the guy who, without a salary, would be living on the street? What about him?
When they do pay you, it’s not exactly high finance. Starting out, most cooks get $9 an hour. The top cooks get $12.50 an hour, capped at an eight-hour shift. If you’re on the dinner shift, you’re not supposed to come in until 3:30, but you always get in earlier. And often as early as nine in the morning. They will say something like, “We’re not telling you to come to work that early, but it would be really good for you to learn something new.” So we come in at nine to butcher our own fish, even though there’s a fish butcher. And of course you don’t get paid for those extra hours. It’s for the experience, remember?
Arrington tells Yalof that when he moved to New York, he paid $300 a month — his weekly salary — for one half of the bunk bed in one of a Brooklyn apartment’s three bedrooms. He graduated to his own room in the same place for $500, but was never there, anyway. The life of a cook in New York, he says, is pretty much cooking and sleeping. “So you work until midnight or 1am, go for dinner, go home, go to sleep, wake up, and you’re back there by nine,” he says.
He continues: “You make no money and you marry yourself to the restaurant. So you’d damn well better love what you do.”