All the Kitchen’s a Stage
The rise of the open kitchen has changed how diners experience their meals, and the way chefs approach their work
by Jaya Saxena Jun 5, 2023, 10:30am EDT
There are plenty of professions that involve being watched. Acting is an obvious one. Being a flight attendant is another — think of the emotional labor required to smile and appear chipper while some guy inevitably takes off his shoes on the plane. Or consider the construction worker, jackhammering away while children beg their parents to stay and look at the big machines. Even taking a Zoom meeting at a cafe means everyone around you now knows what you’re like in meetings.
Traditionally, a chef in a fine dining establishment didn’t have to worry about being watched. While cooks at lunch counters and street stalls whipped up meals in full view of paying customers, at finer establishments the work was obscured. Perhaps a customer could glimpse the line through a swinging kitchen door, but the peace and civility of the dining room was sacrosanct.
The opening of Spago in 1982 changed all that: Its open kitchen concept, which displayed chef Wolfgang Puck and his team grilling fresh tuna or sauteing crimini mushrooms, was half of the reason you went. Since then, the trend has infiltrated the restaurant industry at all levels: Not only have fine dining restaurants come to embrace the open kitchen, but fast-casual eating is all but defined by the act of watching your Chipotle burrito or Cava bowl being made to your specifications. No matter where you are, you can watch the kitchen action, which changes everything from how a line cook must approach their job to how designers create restaurant spaces. And most importantly, how all of us wind up approaching how we eat…
Keep reading: Eater
Image: Derek Abella