GASTRONOMY

Celebrity chef slammed online after defending practice of unpaid interns

Jordi Cruz claims it is a “privilege” for trainees to work at his Michelin-starred restaurant

Celebrity chef Jordi Cruz.
Celebrity chef Jordi Cruz.gtresonline

In Spain these days, as in many other countries, chefs can be genuine celebrities in their own right, appearing on TV shows, writing books, giving conferences and attracting millions of followers on social networks. But that fame can sometimes play against them, as was the case yesterday, on May 1, International Workers Day, when Spanish chef Jordi Cruz became a trending topic on Twitter for defending the fact that interns in Michelin-starred restaurants – including his own – often work for free.

The controversy arose after an article was published in Spanish online newspaper El Confidencial. Headlined “The misery of being an intern for Adrià, Muñoz or Berasategui: a 16-hour thrashing and with no pay,” the feature examined the situation of many trainee chefs, in restaurants run by the three chefs mentioned in the headline. Jordi Cruz, who is the chef at Michelin-starred restaurant Àbac, as well as being a regular judge on the Spanish version of TV cooking show MasterChef, gave his opinion in a second article.

It bothers me that the job of trainee is spoken about as if it were something negative Chef Jordi Cruz

“It bothers me that the job of stagier [trainee] is spoken about as if it were something negative, as if it were abusive or bad practice,” Cruz explained. “You are learning from the best in a real environment, it’s not costing you any money and you get your board and food paid for. It’s a privilege. Imagine how much money it would cost you to do a Masters course like that in another sector,” Cruz argued in defense of unpaid interns. “The business of a Michelin-starred restaurant is such that if everyone in the kitchen was on the payroll, it just wouldn’t be viable. Having trainees does not mean that I want to save on staff costs, but rather offering a service of excellence needs a lot of hands. I could have just 12 chefs on staff and the service would be excellent, but if I can have 20, it will be even better.

In the article, he went on to complain that agreements with chef schools often preclude trainees from working at weekends, “which is when you get a genuine feel for what a kitchen is.”

“We count on professionals with good contracts and students whom we take care of and teach with a lot of affection... I’m sick of hearing nonsense!!!”

It didn’t take long for his comments to awaken the ire of many users of social networks, who were swift to criticize him as well as slamming restaurants that often charge more than €200 per person. But Cruz refused to be silenced, and answered many of his critics via Twitter, where he has 230,000 followers. “I find it incredible that some of you are calling students who have an agreement and who decide to train in my kitchen slaves. You are not insulting me…” he wrote.

The article also included statements from other well-known chefs, who defended the practice. “If they took away all of the stagiers, watch out, because a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants would have a very bad time of it,” said Pepe Rodríguez, chef from the Michelin starred El Bohío and a fellow member of the MasterChef judging panel.

A similar row broke out in the United Kingdom recently, after UK daily The Guardian reported that the Michelin-starred chef at – and owner of – Le Gavroche, Michel Roux Jr, was paying some of his chefs below the minimum wage. Roux Jr, a former host of the UK version of MasterChef, later said that he was “embarrassed and sorry” for the practice, which saw chefs taking home around £375 (€443) before tax after working a 62- to 68-hour week, according to The Guardian. A starter of lobster mousse with caviar and champagne sauce costs around £62.80 (€74.31) at the London restaurant, the newspaper reported.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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