Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg penned an op-ed in the New York Times today about institutional sexism and harassment in professional kitchens. Agg has long been vocal about the issue and recently put together an entire conference devoted to the topic called Kitchen Bitches. In the piece, Agg calls out Gordon Ramsay and the idea of the "aggressive, abusive" chef, explains why female chefs don't often speak out, and outlines what the industry needs to do to instigate change. Below the 12 best lines:
1) On the Weslodge case, in which a female pastry chef came forward about harassment: "What's surprising is not Ms. Burnham's allegation — sexual harassment in professional kitchens is ubiquitous. What's surprising is that someone finally came forward about it."
2) On how high-end kitchens are gendered: "High-end kitchens have long been regarded as a male domain, with culinary students worshiping brutal but allegedly brilliant men, best exemplified by the "bad boy" chef Marco Pierre White and made popular by... Gordon Ramsay."
3) On how Gordon Ramsay promulgates sexist behavior: "Mr. Ramsay is, at least on TV, an equal opportunity abuser. But he represents what society has decided is the ideal head chef: aggressive, abusive and above all male."
4) On how male chefs act in stressful environments: "Under extreme stress, young male chefs all too often take out their frustrations on the few women who dare to enter their realm."
5) On how female chefs cope: "Slapping with tongs, snapping bras, relentless grabbing — women chefs learn quickly to crouch, never bend over, when picking up a pot."
6) On a real "horror" story told to her by a female chef: "One woman I know, who worked as a cook at a well-known restaurant group... told me horror stories of a chef who'd do things like put her staff meal in a metal bowl on the floor of the kitchen because ‘that's where the dogs eat.'"
7) On how stories of sexism are far too common for women: "Many women I know in the industry heard Ms. Burnham's story and almost yawned — not because they didn't sympathize, but because they had heard it all before."
8) On why female chefs don't often report harassment: "Camaraderie needs to exist for the demands of the job, and it can, without sliding into a chaotic environment of accepted abuse and harassment, [be] supported by an understood code of silence. Many women just don't see the benefit of pointing fingers."
9) On why female chefs don't often report harassment, part two: "In a town like Toronto, which is big, but not big enough... you [can't] shake a reputation for not being a ‘team player.' Even in a huge metropolis like New York, the high-end restaurant community is small, and word travels fast. And so women stay quiet and adjust themselves to fit into a testosterone-fueled environment."
10) On why there are few females in high-end kitchen: "Although there are many talented women coming out of culinary schools, it's no surprise that there are relatively few at the top of the industry... The reality is, women ought to be uninterested in a workplace that's not just unwelcoming, but so obviously degrades them."
11) Oh how the problem is systemic, not just a handful of bad people: "The problem goes beyond bad apples. It's the culture."
12) On what the industry needs to do to change: "We need public awareness, more people speaking out and a standard of zero tolerance from industry leaders. Slowly we'll create a new restaurant industry, one that will make the era of kitchen machismo look like the sad anachronism it deserves to be."