The recent “revelations” of rampant harassment in the restaurant industry weren’t exactly a shocker to the women working in it.
Or the men, for that matter.
This isn’t merely a matter of a few bad egg and we all know it. For every John Besh splashed across Page Six, we can assume hundreds, if not thousands, more cooks run kitchens just like the ones his female employees described.
Something’s violate here.
It’s time that cooks and eatery owners candidly acknowledge the larger culture that hatched all these crummy eggs, and have some hard dialogues amongst ourselves that are long overdue.
Let’s start with this:
Assessing a woman as a body , rather than as a person with a mind, character, and talent, denies the full measure of her humanity.
It’s wrong and it demeans us all. Men shouldn’t need to be told this. They shouldn’t need to be told that the high stakes of elite kitchens don’t justify the ugly machismo that runs through so many of them .
There was a stretching in the late ’9 0s at Gramercy Tavern when all the senior chefs in my kitchen were women. Night after brutal night we faced the same pressured ballet of high heat, 86 ’d salmon, and tickets spitting out of the printer at a clip too fast to satisfy.
The only difference was the quiet; the smack talk was gone. These chefs were tightly focused, competing against themselves and not each other. I recall a group of French cooks were visiting at the time who had a good sneer over the male to female ratio in the kitchen. I also recall they shut up pretty quickly once they assured the food . strong>
As men, it’s time for us to take responsibility for the culture of sexism in eatery kitchens — and to fix it.
My kitchen is hardly perfect.
I’ve let my temper run high and driven the pressure up. I’ve brushed off the leering without acknowledging its underlying enmity. I once called a journalist a ‘rumor-mongering b *** h’ for printing gossip that hurt my staff, a gendered slur that I regret.
But, I count myself lucky. I had a father who wouldn’t allow disrespect of my mother, and that lesson sink in more fully during my formative years than the casual misogyny I saw everywhere else. It constructed it an easy selection to turn away the high-paying bachelor parties that wanted to rent out the PDR and bring in a stripper, which isn’t an environment my servers signed on for. It built it a no-brainer to fire the creep of a staffer who snapped pictures of his female co-workers in their changing room without their consent. And it builds it easy for me to see that it’s day for men in the restaurant industry to say to each other: enough . em > strong>
Deep down, men know that sexist shit-talk is just a lazy substitute for real wit.
They know that work is not sexy day. They know that if they have to insist it was consensual, it probably wasn’t. They know that women truly don’t want to hear about their boners( and that they shouldn’t say boner because they’re not fifteen .)
I imagine leaders in our industry will now come rushing forward with talk about how women should feel safe and valued in our eateries. But is it any wonder that this sexist culture persists in professional kitchens when most of the women are gone from the back of the house by the time they hit their 30 s? When the ones who remain are paid, on average, 28% less than their male counterparts?
We need to do more than pay lip service to fixing this. It’s not enough for us to ask, “How can we behave differently around our women employees and coworkers? ” < strong> Instead we should be asking “What barriers to their success do I owe it to them to remove? ” Those of us with our own kitchens should be asking “What have I been able to take for granted on my route to the top that women often can’t, and how can I help fix that? “
We all sweated and scrapped and worked damn hard to get where we are, but most of us did it without the added torment of sexual harassment.
A generation ago, American cooks were the young upstarts, bucking old-world conventions and forging a new path. We were the ones to watch. Is this the end of that epoch? Or do we have a second act in us, one in which we excite eaters more than ever because we’re empowering a new generation of talent?
Chefs are a tough bunch: canny, creative and quick on our feet. That’s why I’m betting our industry can shrug off its leering lizard skin and get this right. I’m betting that we’re smart and confident enough to level the playing field and create real opportunity, or at the least learn how it’s done from the new harvest of women( and men) running their own kickass kitchens humanely and winning awards, all while parenting young children. I’m betting we can reinvent our industry as a place where people of all genders feel safe and prepared to lead.
Some aging bros may dedicate us flack for it. But only until they find the food . strong>
This tale first appeared on Medium and is reprinted here with permission . em>