Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments.
Today, we hear from a Canadian chef who experienced a crude awakening upon meeting a fellow chef she once admired.
I've been working as a chef on both sides of the kitchen, but have spent most of my career in pastry in Toronto. A few years ago I took some much needed time off to attend a culinary festival on the East Coast. This was my first time going to one of these events, and I was both excited and a little wary—excited to meet other chefs to network and hang out, but wary because the scene is so saturated in bro culture.
One of the things that I had noticed was that there weren't many females involved in the festival—no female speakers and no female chefs. Not that they needed to be highlighted, just that they be included as equals.
Instead, there was a large group of bro chefs that are all friends and always headline these kinds of events. It's kind of like high school. All the same people headlining, always doing dinners and showcasing their food. It's the same in the States, in Paris, everywhere. And all the dinners at the festival were collaborations between male chefs. Yawn.
This festival's roster included a guy who's usually not a headliner—not because he's not a bro, but because he's rarely involved in Canadian culinary events. I was really excited to meet him and talk about food with him, because he's a pretty renowned chef and he's from Canada but he made his name outside of Canada, and he has a Michelin star. (Or he had one. His restaurant is now closed.) He has a background in savory and pastry, but he's very accomplished in pastry, so I was really excited to chat with him because I'm a chef who's done both and he's someone I look up to.
At one point, during one of the festival's events, some of my friends were chatting with this chef and I tried to get in on the conversation by bringing up the pastry thing, but I was brushed off. He was pretty hammered at that point. I didn't see him again for a while, because there were lots of people there.
When we left that event, we walked back to where we were staying and the chef decided to walk back with us, and he joined us in our room. Our room became the after-party room—not that it was a wild party or anything. Everybody was drinking and hanging out in the room, and the chef was probably the drunkest person there. He was being very forward and very touchy and didn't want to talk about food at all. Even though I kept saying, "No, I'm not into this," the point wasn't getting across.
So then I left and changed into my pajamas. They weren't sexy pajamas—they were fuzzy, candy cane-printed pants and a long-sleeved shirt, the message being "this is not going to happen."
When I got back, my friend and I were trying to figure out where to order pizza from, but then this chef was sitting beside me, putting his hand on my leg. He tried to kiss me a couple times and I said no and pushed him back.
I should mention that I could clearly see that his phone kept going off, and when it went off, there was a picture of a woman flashing up. I knew he was engaged. Who else would be texting or calling that late at night?
Still, he kept asking me to come back to his room and asking why didn't I want to kiss him. His attitude was very much "I'm a rock star chef, so why don't you want to fuck me?" It didn't matter who I was. He was just looking for someone to bang.
Finally, I just got up and went out to the porch where more people were, and he left.
At that time in my life, I had felt like I had gotten to a point in my career where I could be respected as a colleague and not viewed as just a girl chef, or as something to conquer. But, clearly, I was wrong, because even though we're moving toward equality in kitchens, we're still not viewed as equals. We even say, "woman chef" or "female chef" instead of just "chef." We feel like we need to identify ourselves as different and in doing that, I think we just get treated differently.
If I were a male chef, we might have had a drink together, chatted, shared some experiences. He probably wouldn't have put his hand on my leg . But it didn't matter that I'm a fellow chef and peer. He was shitfaced and wanted to have sex with someone, so by default, since I'm a chick, that someone became me.
If I were to talk about this to other male chefs, I don't think that they'd believe me, or they'd dismiss it because he was drunk. "Why are you freaking out? It wasn't bad—he just kept touching your leg and trying to kiss you."
That's what happens to women who speak up about any kind of harassment. "What did she do to deserve it? Was she flirting with him? Did she bring it on herself? She could have said no."
Well, at the end of the day, you can say no however many times—sometimes people just don't get the point. I said no a million times. I was wearing candy cane-printed pajamas, for fuck's sake.
This type of thing happens all the time and it doesn't get easier. This dickhead chef probably doesn't even remember me—I'm not even a blip on his radar—but it's something that I'll never forget.
The more that bros understand how ostracizing and demeaning it is to treat their female colleagues like this, the better off we'll all be.