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Refreshing New Documentary Spotlights Dishwashers in Montreal Restaurants

Eater logo Eater 6 days ago Tim Forster
a man wearing a hat: Le Bremner dishwasher Shawn © CBC/Supplied Le Bremner dishwasher Shawn

“Dish Pigs” bucks preconceptions about the dirtiest job in the kitchen

An insightful new documentary on the lives of three dishwashers in Montreal’s mid-range and fine-dining restaurants has dropped, courtesy of the CBC’s Short Docs project.

With a name like Dish Pigs, it might not sound like filmmakers Christina Clark and Jon Dietcher are presenting their subjects in the most flattering light, but that’s not the case, says Dietcher.

“It reflects the perception that society has on dishwashers...I actually heard the name Dish Pigs from a dishwasher.”

But after talking to one dishwasher each from Le Bremner (Old Montreal), Le Fantôme (Griffintown), and Grumman ‘78 (St-Henri), Dietcher says the importance of the job — typically the lowest position in a restaurant kitchen — stood out to him.

“If the dishwasher stops, there’s nothing to plate the food [on] and the whole place just shuts down.”

The three main characters in Dish Pigs all ended up behind the sinks in a different way. Shawn, at Le Bremner, used to work as a machinist, but gave up that job and its harsh hours, taking a pay cut with the hopes of going to culinary school and rising through the ranks.

Alli, at Le Fantôme, is a Texan who moved to Montreal for university, but didn’t speak enough French for many jobs — but after graduating, she decided to stick with it. Then there’s the much older Claude at Grumman ‘78, a lifelong St-Henri resident who says it suits him because he can’t sit still, calling it an “honourable job”.

Between filming them at work among piles of dishes and out in their day-to-day lives, the reality didn’t always line up with Dietcher and Clarke’s preconceptions going in.

“I really felt that the dishwashers were going to be disrespected [by other kitchen staff].”

While Dish Pigs doesn’t delve into the views that chefs and other staff have about dishwashers (“it would have seemed like we were kind of glossing over the dishwashers”), the few interactions shown are cordial, even jocular.

“I think the three dishwashers we profiled were extremely competent and people respected that.”

Then, there’s the pay. The documentary hints at the fact that dishwashers are the lowest paid kitchen staff — for example, Claude suggests that trendy new restaurants in gentrified St-Henri are out of his price range — but Dietcher says surprisingly, none of them brought this up as an issue, or even said that they were doing it just to make rent and bills.

“I don’t think they’re in it for the money — Shawn, especially wanted a life change...Claude, for him, it’s the social interaction of the job.”

Beyond bucking the above assumptions, Clarke and Dietcher also take the opportunity to go beyond the workplace — the dishwashers may not get star chef treatment in their portrayals, but they are fully-realized characters — a refreshing take on an oft-overlooked job.

“I wanted them to come across as people, I think it’s a position that’s looked upon as, ‘oh, the dishwasher, no one cares about the dishwasher’...it turns out that they have the most interesting stories in the kitchen.”

Dish Pigs can be watched on CBC’s website (within Canada) or on YouTube (for the rest of the world).

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