Kitchen Bitches Conference Takes on Sexual Abuse in the Foodservice Industry

0
166

TORONTO — It was a full house last night at Toronto’s Revival Bar for Kitchen Bitches — a conference addressing the issue of sexual abuse in the foodservice industry — as restaurant owners and workers took the stage to share experiences and offer solutions.

“Abuse occurs across the board and we see it,” said Hugh Acheson, chef and author and the lone male on the panel. “Twenty years ago was the dark ages for the foodservice industry in this regard but today we are in a better place.” Sexual harassment in restaurant kitchens was not even a conversation 10 years ago, he pointed out, “so that fact that we’re here tonight talking about it is progress.”

“People need to stop derailing the conversation, even though it might be an angry one,” agreed Claudia Cornali Motta who, along with five other local restaurant workers, spoke candidly about the challenges she faces every day as a server at Toronto’s Momofuku Daisho.

Gillian Hnatiw, partner at Lerners LLP educated the crowd of more than 200 people about the legal avenues — both criminal and civil — available to victims of sexual abuse as well as the legal definition of the act. “People don’t know that they can sue in sexual assault cases,” she said. “If sexual assault occurs, you are well within your rights to seek compensation. Filing a civil suit can be empowering after an unempowering situation — it gives you your voice back.”

The mental aspect of workplace sexual abuse is impossible to get away from, said Rosy Rong, a cook and pastry chef at St. John in London. “It’s not talked about enough and it follows you home.”

Conference organizer Jenn Agg grilled panellists on the issue of how to run a kitchen in a way that meets the restaurant’s needs while still taking care of the staff. “We need to find ways to make the kitchen a safer place — if we took better care of our staff then we might keep people from exploding.”
Everyone makes mistakes every day and say things they don’t mean, she acknowledged, “but we as leaders have to nip it in the bud.”

Acheson believes that the days of screaming, abusive chefs are coming to an end. “Chefs are becoming more empathetic overall,” he said. “It’s getting really hard to find people to work in restaurants these days so those [chefs] who aren’t won’t survive in this business anymore.”

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.