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Subject Identifying the value to be addressed: Escoffier vs. Cafeterias
Sylvie-Anne Mériot, Céreq, France
Outline HRD management consists in valuing not only those who manage to distinguish themselves, but also those who fail or find difficulties in being understood. Indeed, an important point concerning professional activity is to agree on its orientation and priorities. Otherwise, people misunderstand, and there is a risk, for employees, of being judged as unable or unskilled. The assessors may be wrong.
    The case of French cooks is especially representative. In a country renowned for its gastronomy, they aim and train to work among the prestigious top end of the trade. But when discovering the day to day constraints of their activity (significant physical effort, difficult working hours and sometimes limited pay), they may decide to move towards more common restaurants, among which are the public ones. 
    Working for chain restaurants or cafeterias, they rapidly manifest the symptoms of a “dominated” or “disenchanted” occupation. Expressing a desire for social advancement which has been constructed through their primary socialisation (childhood and initial training), they may seek refuge in idyllic ambitions which company policies seem unable to counter.
    For example, many of them tend to prove themselves that they are still able to cook with traditional and prestigious ingredients (such as langouste, liver pâté, and morel mushrooms), whatever the budgetary constraints are. Alternatively, they ask for a “brigade”, while their managers expect them to deal with financial issues, that is working with a very small, and sometimes non-qualified team. They also have to promote ordinary dishes while they prefer to respect the Escoffier model and its little evocating non-explicit names, in order to impress their customers or even their hierarchy.
    The different ways they adopt, in order not to lose their professionalism or integrity, has been analysed, especially in the institutional foodservices cafeteria context, through sociological and psychological models of professional identities. In France, this professional context is representative because it concerns 55 % of employed cooks. But often being associated with public services or administrations, schools, hospitals and even jails, they are under estimated and therefore suffer from a very poor image. This is one of the aspects that makes it difficult for cooks to carry out their jobs as they always have to justify their professional reorientation perceived as an egoistic choice or as the obvious recognition of a professional incapacity.
    The domestic and educational socialisation of French cooks explains the difficulty, in this given profession, of making a career choice that is deemed contrary to the norm, which itself is perceived as socially prestigious.
    These two aspects, that will need to be developed further during the Conference, could be summarised in the following way :
1. Concerning the first aspect, it is important to clearly understand the cook’s domestic socialisation. With the exception of those whose family background is in the hotel and catering sector, the professional ideals cherished by pupils when choosing their studies are far from the professional reality. They tend to view the sector from the standpoint of the consumers that they are, rather than from a professional standpoint.
    Even the popular press tends to promote the image of luxury hotel and catering, and feeds a widespread belief that the job opportunities available in hotel and catering are unlimited both in number and quality, so much so that the working classes can climb the social ladder, especially in the most prestigious aspects of the profession. 

2. After the domestic socialisation, the cook’s educational socialisation clearly reinforces students’ ambition to serve the upper class as a means of getting revenge on the dominating classes. Even in America, a document listing Hotel Training Programs uses the expression “rags to riches”, to summarise and encourage this frequent ambition.


Hotel and catering training, often providing protection against unemployment, is also presented as offering rapid career development opportunities, in a sector that is known for the low overall level of qualifications. However, although it is true that the sector is regularly seeking new recruits, this is generally due to the very high staff turnover rate and the fact that it attracts massive amounts of young people, to whom it offers no real possibilities for career development, with the exception of the kitchen management field.
    A growing number of job opportunities are those offered by cafeterias and restaurant chains, where the traditional part of the work now has to be accompanied by a modern management approach, financial concerns and, above all, by a standardised customer focus. At the same time, teachers tend to resist the two main chain orientations: the “general public” orientation, considered to be non-prestigious, and the “industrial” concept, which could challenge their very role. They thus tend to hide behind art for the benefit of the most traditional aspects of the profession, for which they combine both admiration and suspicion (because traditional restaurants represent a risk of student exploitation or at least, because traditional chefs usually prefer to keep their own professional knowhow rather than sharing it).
    Young cooks also confirm their motivation for social advancement imagined via an access to a superior culture -culinary art-  which at once represents a personal decision to serve the dominant classes and a negation of the domestic practices of one’s original social class. Working in this profession, they often take the habit of imitating their well-heeled guests (consuming expensive produce, keeping their own wine cellar, making ostentatious preparations when playing host…). Indeed, imitating professional practices outside the workplace is a kind of norm by which cooks recognise each other. When playing host to friends, they will go to time-consuming efforts in preparing and selecting the freshest possible products from targeted suppliers whom they know personally. The hope of social advancement or revenge is never far away, and they complain of their clients’ behaviour, such as bad manners or disdain, because it especially appears as a brutal reminder of their original social position.
    Another important socialisation anchorage is the way the “artist chefs” are valued by the media system, and especially on television. It leads cooks to dream about fame, which is nearly impossible in large companies, and especially in mass catering.
    For HRD managers, this cook’s ambitions, even impossible to realise, have to be taken into account in the daily decisions. For instance, when cooks ask to have training courses, they usually do not ask to be taught the techniques they could use in their activity (for example, to learn the latest techniques to cook frozen products such as vegetables or fish without losing too much flavour and weight). They prefer instead to be taught prestigious techniques in a renowned chef’s restaurant, whatever the use they will do of these techniques later. HRD managers can therefore decide to compromise on the training aims depending on their priorities, either to have a hands-on course to gain practical techniques, or to encourage cooks by a kind of non-operational, but motivating, incentive.
    The same difficulties appear in all HRD decisions. For example, concerning the way professional objectives are defined, or the way employees are assessed by their supervisors. And even in large international companies such as Compass Group or Sodexho, there is always an hesitation between the two strategies. Senior management and R&D tend to give a greater priority to the technical and practical orientation, while field supervisors tend to be attached to traditional techniques and to resist any kind of change. In this context, HRD managers have the uncomfortable position of being the referee. The most difficult point is certainly to define what value to address, with the risk of widening the gap rather than bridging it.

Source Paper presented at the 6th international conference on HRD research and practice across Europe: Human resource development - addressing the value. Leeds 25-27 May 2005. (Author's summary; full paper incl. in CD-ROM).
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO