We’ve Heard From Screaming Chefs, but What About Their Workers?

“I was worked to the bone, drained of my love for restaurants, convinced that I was bad at my job, that I wasn’t cool, that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t a hard worker, that I wasn’t worthy,” she writes.

Until recently, when we heard stories like this, they were told by chefs. Screaming and pot-throwing were things they endured in their younger days, part of the dues they paid. Some of them also copped to having bullied their line cooks and dishwashers early on, when they first got their own kitchens and followed the bad examples of their own abusive mentors. Breaking the chain is both a personal achievement and a step toward more modern and humane management practices.

Such stories rarely linger on the victims the chef has left on the floor in a finely shredded chiffonade. In their lives, abuse may not be a station on the path to fame. It may not be redeemed by later success. It may not give them the opportunity to do better when their turn comes. It is just abuse.

We are hearing these stories now, though. At first they came from female restaurant workers who spoke out about sexual harassment. People listened. They were outraged, rightly. Things changed. This encouraged restaurant workers to talk about other kinds of mistreatment. Many of these accusations, sometimes divulged to reporters but more and more often spilled on Instagram posts and comments, fall on a spectrum from scalding tirades like those Ms. Selinger describes to less nightmarish bad-boss behavior, like playing favorites and taking credit for an employee’s work.

Some allegations seem intended to force bad actors to self-defenestrate, but others have a much more basic message: Hello. I’m here. And I’m sick of this.

If you’ve ever been treated poorly by a boss or other authority figure, you can’t help identifying with some of these voices. Restaurant workers have traditionally labored in silence — the chef or the owner was the only one who got to talk. Now the microphone can be commandeered by almost anybody, for a few minutes at least, and it’s changing the way we look at restaurants.

We always knew they were group efforts. Now we can see the individuals in the group. And if they’re suffering, we can feel their pain.

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