What went down at the Kitchen Bitches conference

What went down at the Kitchen Bitches conference

toronto-food-events-kitchen-bitches-jen-agg-hugh-acheson-amanda-cohen-jessica-koslow Jen Agg speaking at Kitchen Bitches (Image: Corey Mintz)
 

Following the publication of Kate Burnham’s story, alleging horrific workplace sexual harassment at Weslodge restaurant, The Black Hoof’s Jen Agg organized a one-night conference, Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy one Plate at a Time, to discuss the toxic workplace culture in restaurants.

Over the course of the evening, industry workers shared their stories of abuse in restaurants; a panel discussion about behaviour in professional kitchens featured speakers like Jessica Koslow (L.A.’s SQIRL), Hugh Acheson (Georgia’s The National, 5&10, Empire State South, The Florence), and Rosy Rong (a cook and pastry chef from Fergus Henderson’s St. John in London, England); and the Globe and Mail’s Jared Bland, along with other media personalities like Helen Rosner, the features editor for Eater, and Lucky Peach editor Peter Meehan, talked about responsible journalism.

Here’s just some of what people had to say.

Claudia Cornali Motta, server
“This goes out to white men. There’s a lot of things you can do. Because it starts with being a decent human being. The first thing you need to do is Google intersectionality. Secondly, you need to stop derailing the conversation. I understand that this is an angry conversation and it’s emotional. But you have no right to tell us to make it more palatable for you to consume. I don’t need to back up my lived experiences with facts and figures. If you want to end the conversation, tell me right now and I won’t bother to try and educate you, which by the way, is not my role.”

Sophia Banks, cook

“I’ve worked in a kitchen both as a man and as a woman. When I worked as a man, I was part of the dude-bro culture, I played along with the dudes. When I look back on that now, it was kind of shitty of me. I didn’t stand up for women enough and I allowed that abuse of women to happen. Even though at the time I knew I was a woman living as a man.”

“After coming out as a trans woman, I went back to kitchen work. I got a job and on my first day, after 15 minutes, I got kicked out of the women’s change room where I was putting on my chef’s uniform. So I walked out. I have 10 years experience working as a cook and kitchen manager. I managed restaurants for five years. But my career is done. For the last year and a half I’ve been working as a fucking dishwasher.”

“What I really want to see happen in the industry is what I want to see happen in life in general. People need to listen to oppressed people. I have white privilege. But I’m also experiencing oppression as a trans woman, as a queer woman, and as a low-income woman.”

Hugh Acheson, chef and restaurateur
“Chefs are becoming more empathetic and more understanding overall. We’re hopeful. Those who are not, who are harassing people and exploiting people, will not survive in business anymore. It’s so hard to find anybody to work in a restaurant these days. If you’re not a good person, providing a good work environment, you’re fucked. So learn. I employ about 240 people now. I can’t treat them like shit. I can’t work them 16 hours a day. Those days are gone.”

“There’s a very professional way of yelling at someone, honestly, that’s not belittling, not personal, not undercutting somebody for no reason. It’s purely on point as to the job that they’re doing, or why the food’s wrong and why it’s not getting up in time. That’s it. A lot of chefs do this thing where they totally undercut somebody with personal attacks and then by the end of the shift they’ll say [mimes patting on the shoulder], ‘Sorry about that, everything okay? We’re good now?’ That’s not cool either. That’s just a power trip in itself. But I think there’s a place for yelling.”

Rosy Rong, cook and pastry chef
“I remain hopeful. I do see a day when we are not abusive to our employees. But I think a lot of employees don’t necessarily have a choice. They don’t know where to go if they don’t want to be abused. Say I’d just come out of culinary school and I wanted to work somewhere. I’m not going to know necessarily where I can go and not be abused. It’s not even on my radar. I just want a job.”

Jessica Koslow, chef and restaurateur
“At SQIRL we have an open kitchen. I’ve worked in open kitchens and closed kitchens, and with closed kitchens I’ve found the amount of abuse and aggression much more extreme than I’ve found in open kitchens. Open kitchens require you to communicate and talk to one another.”

“If I have problems, I’m able to communicate what those problems are. And I think that is going to be very helpful moving forward, to find a way to communicate how people are not doing their jobs and lift them up so they can become great leaders. We need great leaders in this industry.”

Gillian Hnatiew, partner, Lerners LLP
“If you’ve been harassed or assaulted in your workplace, you can go to the police station at any time and make a statement, lay a complaint. If you go the criminal route, I want you to be mindful that the system is all about punishing the offender, rather than compensating or empowering the victim. If the offender is charged, it will not be your case. It will be the crown’s case. The crown prosecutor is not your lawyer and you are not their client. You will not have any control over the process. You’ll have limited access to information. You will be a witness but that’s where it ends. That’s a really surprising thing to a lot of people. It can cause a lot of angst and frustration. The payoff of engaging that system, dealing with the police and dealing with the crown, going to court and potentially having Christie Blatchford write about you, is that person can end up with a criminal record and maybe even spend time in jail. And if those are the things you want, that’s the only way to get them. By contrast, the civil system is essentially about compensating the victim. A lot of people don’t know that you can sue for sexual harassment and sexual assault. And also there can sometimes be this weird thing where people think the victim is taking advantage of the situation or that it’s opportunism if they sue for compensation. Those things make me totally crazy.”

Helen Rosner, features editor, Eater
“There’s no such thing as food writing without politics, without the humans who consume the food and make the food and grow the food. So every single story is actually about everything. We choose what comes to the front and what goes to the background.”

Peter Meehan, editor, Lucky Peach
“I think it’s okay to force things a little bit. You have to force the issue of making sure that there are women represented. We’re doing a grits package right now. If we can’t find a woman who cooks grits, we should shut down shop.”