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So, what’s NOT on the menu?
Imagine if you can, that you are a female chef and you wear your button or your t-shirt with pride, the slogan saying #Notonthemenu.
The answer is simple, so simple that it stops people right in their tracks and will forever change their view of how they treat you.
That answer is me. I’m not on the menu! nor is my body, my gender, or my sexuality!
“Yeah, right. That’s cool” comes the reply. It will only happen once, when they finally get the idea that you ARE an equal, you are a colleague, and yes you are a chef.
The idea started in America, and comes from years of female oppression in kitchens, and a final realisation that there must and will be changes; 2021 will become the focus of a concerted campaign by Unichef, The National Chefs Union to finally rid our own kitchens of this vile and systemic abuse of our female colleagues.
#Notonthemenu looks at the history and the reverence of women in British Cookery, their contribution, and the exciting and often inspirational contributions that they have made and will continue to make in kitchens across our country.
Our aim is to educate all chefs into a new and fresh culture that accepts people as they are, as professionals doing a professional job, and to help everyone understand that our kitchens are NOT bastions of a male preserve but are in fact “our office” our place of work, where we should all feel safe, secure and protected and where our genders should never come into question.
“Our office” should be just like any other modern working environment, we should work by modern recognisable standards towards our colleagues.
Banter and fun, being the butt of sexual talk and jokes, hugging and “love in the kitchen” is all eighties tolerability that no longer belongs in the 21st Century.
As chefs we beg for the latest equipment, the best of facilities and stress to our bosses to get with it and use modern techniques, yet so many of our chefs are still in the last century when it comes to recognising the equal right of women in kitchens and yet no one would ever treat their wives, girlfriends or mothers in that way.
We can’t only blame chefs either. Our industry is plagued with male dominated companies and a hugely male oriented media obsessed with the latest “Cool Chef” when there has not been any since Gary Rhodes. And yet TV cooking shows are STILL dominated by men! Is it any wonder then that our young chefs still grow up believing that men are the better chefs, if only through numbers?
The time for change is now, the time to look at how we really treat women in our kitchens and ask ourselves “can we do better”? Can we bring respect and equality back into our kitchen, not only for their sake but for ours too, as treating all people with respect makes us all better chefs.
For too many years now our Industry has been plagued by the crazy notion that some sort of recreational drug or liquid crutch will get chefs “through the day” and that they “need” those items in place to be the chef that they are or want to become ??
Yet repeatedly our Union sees the massive result in the scrapheap of chefs who thought that drugs, alcohol and even Caffeine drinks were the answer to their pressures and workload.
There are so many that contact us who “used” to be a chef, with the same story. We even encounter Ex-offenders who once again tell us how the pressures of the job, drove them to substance abuse and then into crime, one-minute working on their dream, the next involved in a nightmare.
All aspire to be great chefs, all look to their hero’s, the classic legends who crafted our profession, Escoffier, Bocuse, Mossiman, Blanc etc, we all have our favourites. But few chefs stop to question just HOW these great chefs got through their days of stress, without a joint to calm them down or twenty cans of Red Bull for them to do their job??
Maybe they can’t understand that the greatest of chefs just don’t need stimulants, that the love of their craft, their own drive and commitment and the “natural high” they get from being in one of the greatest professions in the world is all they need to get them “through the day “?
It’s all so easy to criticise, I know that, but as a chef who has worked for the last 46 years and still puts in 70 hours with more pressures and stress then you can ever imagine, without anything thing more than uplifting than a cup of tea of tea, I often wonder just why such chefs need to be in our industry at all ?
If they really need such artificial props to survive the rigours of the day, are they really the chefs we need in this industry, shouldn’t they just get out of it??
Easy to say addictions and abuse are now so rife that they must now be considered a serious threat to safety and a massive disincentive to many youngers wanting a career as a chef.
The foolish belief that you need drugs to be a good chef, or that you need drugs in your kitchen to make it “groove” is just the biggest load of hype this industry has ever seen and time we all “called out” drug taking in kitchens, those that use them, those that sell them and also those that turn a blind eye.
Of course, as an industry we need to support those who truly need it, but the recreational mass acceptance that drug taking is "normal" needs to change. If someone was drunk on duty, its gross misconduct, and an instant dismissal, but someone having a joint or a line at work is somehow cool???
In Post Pandemic Britain, Drug Free Kitchens must now be the norm. Drug testing must become mandatory in UK kitchens and Unichef will support any Employer in this aim. This is our chance to rid kitchens of substance abuse and return our kitchens into a safe and healthy workplace environment.
During a lecture for my degree in addictions therapy the tutor said that there were certain professions that have a higher rate of addiction than others, chefs were mentioned as one of those.
No surprise then that in a class of twelve students, two of us had been chefs for over 20 years and had our own past substance misuse issues. Following that, during my experience working in residential rehabs I noticed quite a few clients were or had been chefs in the past. This got me thinking, I knew why I used to drink when I was a private chef, the pressure, the control, performance anxiety and need for perfection were all factors, but I wondered why it was that chefs as a group had higher instances than the general population of potentially harmful alcohol and drug use.
It seems the idea that chefs and substances are a perfect pairing has always been there, there were the drunken chef stereotypes even before television brought the early celebrity chefs to our living rooms, with a glass in one hand and a spatula in the other. Then, twenty years ago Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” brought the industry’s dirty little secrets to the public eye, the exposure of the drug and drink fuelled kitchen culture didn’t do anything to stigmatise it, to the contrary, it seemed to glorify and normalise it and attracted a small army of celebrity hopefuls happy to be part of the macho anything goes kitchen culture. “it’s wrong, but “look at what I can do and what I can handle when I just have a few drinks / bump/ speed etc to get through service, then just have a splif to wind down and get some sleep so I can do it all again next shift.”
Once again, the vile topic of Sexual Harassment is raising its ugly head.
As if we did not have enough to contend with as chefs, we still hear of disturbing reports and complaints of sexual bullying and even sexual assault.
Sadly, few realise the real harm this can cause and the extreme penalties that are involved for those that perpetrate and those managers and Head Chefs who turn a blind eye to the tribal goings on in their kitchens.
In an industry that has been completely turned on its head with COVID and is now beginning to realise the enormity of the changes in store, isn’t also time that we evaluated the very values and morals that we need in today's modern kitchens.
Unichef has constantly strived for a Zero tolerance of abuse in all kitchens, it is the number one core principal set out in our constitution, but it still continues to be a difficult battle.
The endemic attitude of many male chefs and the lack of strong female and gay chefs who are prepared to make a stand no matter what the cost is at times frustrating and often heart breaking.
Tribal kitchens still thrive and feral chefs who still exhume vile and hurtful statements, behaving as jungle animals looking for their next victim, caring not that they could well be on the way to prosecution, dismissal and the prospect of never being employed in any food establishment ever again are sadly still present in our profession.
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