The Professionalization Of Cooking

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The Professionalization Of Cooking

In most traditional societies, the task of daily food preparation fell primarily to women—though both men and women were heavily involved in food procurement. Civilization allowed more people to specialize in other occupations, and that trend eventually produced a class of professional chefs, whose main job was cooking for others. Tomb paintings, sculptures, and archaeological remains from more than 5,000 years ago clearly show that ancient Egypt already had many different food-related jobs, including butchery, baking, brewing, and winemaking. Beer brewing may have been initiated much earlier by the production of cereal crops, possibly 10,000 years ago. All of those professions had their own shops and facilities, often with multiple employees working in well-organized kitchens.

Culinary professionals generally cooked quite differently from the women who were cooking only for their families. Baking leavened bread, for example, was largely a professional activity, because ovens were expensive to own and operate. Much fuel was necessary to heat the earth, clay, or brick interior of an oven, and, once the right temperature was reached, maximum efficiency could be achieved only if many loaves were baked. Most people bought or bartered for their bread.

Flatbreads, by contrast, could be cooked simply in a pan or even on a rock. Cultures all over the world invented various forms of flatbread—from the tortilla in Mexico to the chapati in India to lefse in Norway. Because flatbreads did not require an oven or any elaborate preparation, they were typically made at home as part of peasant cuisine.

The professionalization of baking, brewing, and winemaking occurred for three reasons: capital equipment was expensive; increasingly complicated food products required skill and expertise to prepare; and there was a growing number of affluent customers. Chefs and culinary artisans were employed both for their practical uses and as status symbols, and people willing to pay more for a better meal created a ready market for new recipes and techniques.

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