Montreal Gazette restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman managed to stir up controversy with her stance on the sexual harassment allegations by a former pastry chef. Earlier this week, Kate Burnham went public with claims that she was "routinely sexually harassed and abused" by three male chefs for nearly a year-and-a-half while working at Toronto's Weslodge. She says they would grab her breasts, make lewd remarks, and call her inappropriate names. Chesterman commented on the situation via Twitter Wednesday, saying that she too had been sexually harassed while working in kitchens, but that "you either deal with it or you get out."
Chesterman continued, questioning why Burnham put up with the abuse for so long. She then added more fuel to the proverbial fire when she noted that the people she saw "get abused in kitchens" were "men, young men" before comparing Burnham's case to that of the cook alleging harassment at chef Joël Robuchon's Bordeaux restaurant La Grande Maison: "Burnham leaving Weslodge would not have affected her career. This guy taking on Robuchon is HUGE." Vocal restaurateur Jen Agg quickly responded, saying Chesterman was "victim blaming."
. @lesleychestrman re: this matter. It reads as victim blaming.— Jen Agg (@TheBlackHoof) June 17, 2015
Yesterday, Chesterman went on CBC radio show Homerun to defend herself, noting, "People think I'm not sympathetic. I'm actually extraordinarily sympathetic because this has happened to me." She adds that if she was Burnham's mother or cooking teacher she would have "told her to get out... Ultimately it would have been a good idea to complain, then go to the police, but also to get out of that kind of toxic atmosphere." Chesterman says that Burnham shouldn't have spent two years of her life in a kitchen "with these goons treating her badly."
The chefs accused of harassment have either had no comment or have denied the allegations. INK Entertainment and Icon Legacy Hospitality — the owners of Weslodge — initially remained pretty quiet on the situation, but eventually admitted that the harassment may have happened. The companies added that due to a lack of communication, they were not able to fix the situation. Listen to Chesterman's interview on Homerun in full below:
Ed. Note 6/19/2015 12:40 p.m.: Lesley Chesterman has previously contributed to Eater.