Part 21: Death to the Spiskrigare
In remembrance of things past
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Part 21: Death of the Spiskrigare
The cook does not look upon himself as a servant, but as a skilled workman… He knows his power. He despises the whole non-cooking staff, and makes it a point of honour to insult everyone below the head waiter.
George Orwell - Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
It was in 2018 at a restaurant called Oaxen Slip that I first heard the word spiskrigare.
My Head Chef, a great cook and thoroughly hilarious man named Rune, was the one I heard say it. It became clear that this “spiskrigare” (speece-kree-guh-reh) was a person of some sort. And everything Rune said about him implied he was a near-mythic culinary entity.
But what is a spiskrigare?
The word itself is Swedish and simple to translate. Spis means kitchen stove. And krigare means warrior. A spiskrigare is, in as much, a “stove warrior”.
But just as a flâneur is more than a “stroller” or “loiterer”, so a spiskrigare is more than just the cook who battles through service from behind a stove. To understand what a spiskrigare really is requires more than simple translation. And, though spiskrigares certainly exist elsewhere in the world, since the Swedes are the first I know of to have created a distinct label for this group, it’s the Swedish term I’ll be using today.
Firstly, all spiskrigares are restaurant cooks. But not all restaurant cooks are spiskrigares.