I’m currently sitting in a house in a Cornish bay,waves outside sound like a motorway thrashing itself through rush hour.My two year old son,in his bright yellow waders clambers down the coastal path every afternoon with his Dad,the excitement,the anticipation for splashing into an oncoming tide in January produces a grin that joins the dots between the dimples.I get soaked to my knees as I’ve not been smart enough to invest in proper wellies yet,but the little future Jacques Cousteau is in his aquatic element.Happiness abounds;we giggle,guffaw and conspire.Beaches in january are a haven for dog walkers,the mentalist surf boarders and children wrapped head to toe in scarfs,hats,wellies and gloves.Winter beaches make me happy.
As last year ended I was working the dawn shift(4.30am starts) in a Michelin star restaurant.Now,I’m old (39) and have been kicking around Michelin kitchens for far too many years.For the last decade I’ve been a head chef,garnering awards,callused fingers and a growing sense of disillusionment by the bucketful.When my brother-in-law turned 40 a couple of years back I asked him if anything had changed.He stared at his wineglass for a minute and then simply said,
“I’ve just become massively intolerant of bullshit.”
I am right there.
My intolerance of bullshit has found a plateau on which to hang its wrinkly grumpy ol’ arse.
Of late,some things have twisted my melons,to varying degrees of irritation.From the slightly irritable,what the fuck? All the way to I want to kill someone.You know, just your usual,perfectly normal,range of emotions.Big smiley face with a colon,a dash and a capital d.
I don’t know when banter became such a toxic term,certainly as I climbed up the ranks through kitchen hierarchies there was a healthy amount of piss taking.The hours,the solidarity and the firm sense of team made everyone belong.The proper sense of a brigade;from its military definition to Escoffier’s genius reworking of a professional kitchen.At no point was the language personally offensive,subjectively you were embarrassed when your ineptitude was discussed at length with the waitress you quite fancied.The senior chefs would not condone or allow offensive topics or attitudes to have any place in their kitchens.Now I may have just been lucky that the kitchens I came through were run by mature,intelligent chefs.But as a head chef myself I have never allowed a degradation of attitudes amongst my chefs.I know all the horror stories from the kitchens of old,the pre-Marco era,but I’m of an age that my kitchen experience started in the early 90’s when my industry was having an evolution and the public perception of cooks,chefs and kitchens were about to irreversibly change for ever.What I experienced recently seems a throw back to an era I’ve never known.Having been out of running kitchens for a couple of years,is what I experienced indicative of a growing young male attitude? There is enough commentary to support this,but I like to think that kitchen brigades by their hierarchical design are more equipped to install better attitudes amongst their younger members.
Young white male chefs discussing rape,racial stereotyping and women as if they are nothing more than sexual objects.I shouldn’t have to explain to the gobshites spouting this why I found it offensive,but I did.Taking offence always implies a slightly soft,vulnerable exterior but actually I don’t think that certain offending topics or attitudes should even warrant an explanation.I’m kitchen hardened and world-weary,I’m nearly 40 and have developed a world view that although certainly offensive to some is actually pretty liberal at its heart.I’m not racist,homophobic,sexist or ageist,I don’t view the opposite sex in any negative capacity and I want to live in a world that is fair and not prejudicial.Naive possibly;but I’m no saint,things,people and situations piss me off royally.But creed,sexuality,nationality,colour,gender & age are irrelevant to my pissed-off-edness.People are arseholes,but not all people and certainly not a specific type of people.
I don’t want to hear the casualness of a rape reference or the National Front endorsed racial slurs but worst than that I don’t want to hear these things and say nothing.Complicity through silence.It was treated as humour, ha ha ha ha that is fucking hilarious,so after you’ve threatened to rape a fellow chef’s girlfriend you expect him to laugh it off.(He did,although not before he had mentioned what a ‘cunt’ she had been to him recently.)
The poor girl in a relationship with this arsehole needs to Ebay his prized possessions and then sleep with his brother.If I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting her,that would have been my suggestion.
A female chef came for a trial and from then on was referred to as the one with the big tits.
This kind of language and attitude needs stamped on from a height,in none of the kitchens that I have run,would this be acceptable.Chances are it would cost you your job.I binned a chef once who was on a trial because he told the female sous chef to ‘chill out sweetheart’.Sweetheart! Are you fucking kidding me? I wouldn’t dream of justifying her position to male chefs,the fact that she ran rings around every male chef in the kitchen was irrelevant,she was the sous chef and I don’t tolerate that attitude…now fuck off.
It’s not censorship to ban these attitudes from around you,its leadership.Although hilariously the junior sous chef spent the entire morning of my first day discussing with a demi-chef de partie how much ketamin he had taken on his holiday.From all accounts enough to royally fuck up a grand national,although apparently he suffered no erectile dysfunction so at least unlike the poor chefs having to listen to this massively inappropriate dribble,his girlfriend could breathe a deep sigh of relief.
The much older,wiser senior sous chef told me he was an arse man.
I asked him if he was flirting with me.
He wasn’t,merely explaining why a waitress with a more round bottom than the other waitresses had grabbed his attention.Hearing him publicly tell a young chef aged 20 that he thought the young chef’s girlfriend was fit and would definitely get it if it was on offer was a particularly special moment.Maybe like life on mars I had fallen asleep in 2012 and had awoken in a Michelin starred kitchen of the 1970’s.(was there such a thing?)
What the actual fuck is going on?
“It’s just banter”, NO! you are a dickhead.
At my most vitriolic,I have used profanity as a form of kitchen grammar,certainly as punctuation to get a point across.Like I say I’m no saint,but I never discussed or allowed those around me or under me to publicly discuss anything that was inappropriate or offensive to normal sensibilities.
The constant barrage of judgment that women have to put with on a daily basis makes hearing this misogynist shite from young men more offensive.
I don’t need to imagine it’s my wife,sister,mother or daughter being discussed with such disrespectful sexual sneering in order to get pissed off at it.Hearing women being discussed as if they are lesser beings pisses me off.The chefs themselves,all middle England white boys claimed that it meant nothing and it was just banter.
It does matter,it normalizes a shitty attitude.
A young chef (early 20’s) started on pastry;he was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and for the first couple of days was reassuringly monosyllabic;just listening and watching.He had left a young family up north(wife,two under 5’s) to pursue Michelin dreams down south.An amiable lad to start with,just got on with the tasks ahead of him and then when he clearly felt more comfortable,about two days later,started spouting shite.
‘I would smash that’ ,is not a phrase I have ever used.
Telling this bell-end to keep his bullshit to himself just reinforced a clear divide in attitude between me and some of the chefs around me.I don’t believe it’s an age thing,I believe it’s a dickhead thing.
A previous young chef de partie had left after only 3 months citing as his reason for leaving that he just couldn’t bond with the brigade.It transpires that he took massive umbrage at gram flour being referred to as ‘Paki Flour’ and at the general attitude that permeated through all the younger chefs.Apparently he was a bit serious,dour and kept himself to himself,unable to assimilate into the team properly.He had no issue telling the youngsters around him to watch what they said.Unfortunately I never met him because it sounds like I would have liked him.
It’s no great shock that a nearly all male brigade ,(there is one hardened Hungarian twenty something female who admirably seems oblivious to her male counterparts),are prone to vomiting offensive shite in the name of humour or banter.However,what is a shock is the lack of leadership.A voice of maturity,teaching,shaping,correcting,protecting,disciplining,molding,inspiring those around them.There’s no excuse.These young men need not only their cooking skills improved,they need moulded into the head chefs of tomorrow.
The fact that I found the chefs in equal measure generous and friendly just highlights further the fact that this is definitely a leadership issue.The pack mentality of being a bit of a dickhead is easily stamped on whilst also teaching life lessons.When I raised my objections to the topics of conversation or the attitudes displayed I found the young chefs,at first slightly vacuous,not really understanding where my objections were coming from,then eventually a little embarrassed and not quite as cock sure as when they had been holding court unchallenged about the finer points of race discrimination or Gene Hunt style sexism.
Would I be happy if my son thought it was perfectly acceptable to have these attitudes and feel free to discuss them in the most derogatory way possible?
No,that would mean I have royally screwed up my Dad responsibilities.As a head chef I always felt similar responsibilities to the youngsters under me.Rightly or wrongly I felt that the senior chefs and myself should set the tone and dictate where necessary all behaviour within our kitchen.