In the middle of December in 2017, I went to Create A Cook to host a special cooking event. On the counter, I saw a cook book of Chef Mario Batali with a note from a colleague. She wrote to my boss Jo, “Maybe it’s time for us to take this book off from our display shelf.”
The end of 2017 in the food industry, like many other industries, was full of sexual harassment news regarding several famous male chefs. Many previously loyal customers now choose not to go to those chef’s restaurants or not to purchase their books. I actually think this may be unfair for those who work for such chefs, since the employees are not those who misbehaved. Moving forward to 2018, I would suggest that we don’t necessary need to boycott those restaurants, but at the same time, we should try more restaurants that are not owned by celebrity chefs. After all, there are many, many restaurants for which chefs give their lives and try to create amazing dishes and use seasonal ingredients to serve the community. In 2018, I say it’s time for them to get more attention.
I also think it is time to give credit to the chefs who have been dedicated to create the best working environment for both male and female employees. Here, I would like to take the opportunity to mention one of the most inspiring chefs I have ever worked with in my life, Joanne Chang.
After I graduated from Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, Flour Bakery + Cafe was the first establishment for which I worked. I started there as a cookie girl. I got an email from Chef Joanne to welcome me to the Flour. Flour Bakery + Cafe is the only bakery for which I have worked that there is a HR manager. Aimee, the HR manager, greeted me with smile and gave me a twenty dollar Flour gift card, so I could experience Flour food before formally working there.
In order to work at Flour Bakery + Cafe, the bakers not only have to have the skill set to make pastry but also have to follow certain rules, so we could create a professional working environment. For example, we have “no swearing policy” in our kitchen.
No swearing in the kitchen. A professional work environment starts with you; you now play a significant role in maintaining the whole kitchen atmosphere. In order to stay focused, we discourage excessive chatting in the kitchen. We of course want you to enjoy the camaraderie of the kitchen, as long as you remain efficient and attentive to your work.
Swearing is not allowed, and sexual harassment can’t be tolerated (as a note, it never happened at Flour). At Flour, the HR manager holds meeting on regular basis to talk about how to create a friendly working environment. I remember talking to her when one female colleague gave me some attitude and made me feel uncomfortable. She was such a good listener, and she was there for everyone. Joanne also tries to make time to spend time with us on a regular base. For example, she hosts Joanne’s Ice Cream Social so we can meet her and talk to her.
For my female readers who are passionate about cooking and baking, do not easily give up the opportunity to work in the kitchen because of the negative news. There are companies where the employers do care about female employees and want to create good working environments for workers of different gender, race and background. For the female chefs, let’s think what we can do to support and inspire each other. Let us be the good models for our colleagues. We can show them how to treat people with compassion and respect. People usually associate kitchen culture with the old school French style, a master chef yells at the apprentice. I believe a smile, an encouragement, a kind word, can be as powerful as a curse or swearing.
Cheers to 2018. Let’s start the year with our special “soft” power!