How would you feel about eating in a restaurant knowing the head chef is a misogynist bully?
Would it bother you if you knew he sexually harasses female and/or male members of staff?
(We have used the male pronoun because statistically it’s more likely to be a male aggressor in a kitchen environment. This does not preclude female-instigated bullying.)
What about if the chef “just” hurls verbal insults at young cooks, humiliates them, but doesn’t go as far as pushing or punching them? Does this pass the threshold of unacceptable behaviour, or is it part of the cut and thrust of a commercial kitchen in 2019?
And then there is this: if you knew someone was a thoroughly nasty piece of work, how would you feel if they were honoured with a top industry award?
It might leave a bad taste in the mouth.
The #metoo movement has opened people’s eyes to, and encouraged discussion of, a pervasive culture of sexual harassment, and in some instances, sexually motivated assault in society at large. There have been well-documented scandals in the hospitality sector, the exposure of which has encouraged wider consideration of ethnic, racial and gender representation in the industry.
It is therefore refreshing to see one of the world’s leading food award schemes taking a lead in tackling the issue head on. It’s just a shame it’s not a UK organisation setting the agenda.
In the United States, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) directed its committees and judges to consider restaurant culture and leadership values as part of the decision-making process for the 2018 awards.
Liquid’s head of content Richard McComb and chef director David Colcombe heard first-hand about JBF’s enlightened approach from the organisation’s chief operating officer Kris Moon during a food trip to Gothenburg, Sweden. They heard how a wider remit to think about a restaurant’s attitude, actions and behaviours towards its staff and suppliers – rather than simply considering the food on a plate – had led to the foundation’s most inclusive awards to date. In 2018, more than half of the 23 titles were won by women or people of colour in the restaurant and chef categories.
For the 2019 awards, to be announced at a gala event in May, the foundation has gone further to promote equality and inclusion. All awards committees have been directed to increase their diversity to “at least represent the US census.” A similar directive applies to the diversity of committee judges.
The public can now recommend people for the JBF Leadership Awards to broaden the pool of candidates working in sustainability, food justice and public health. It’s a shot across the bows of the old boys’ network.
Barely a week goes by without a report on the growing recruitment crisis and skills shortage in UK hospitality industry. Rewarding exemplars of good practice rather than regimes beset by bullying and inequality would be a good way of demonstrating transparency and attracting new talent to kitchen positions and service roles.