Tom Colicchio's Powerful Open Letter to the Restaurant Industry
America's chefs are finally coming face-to-face with the elephant in the kitchen: the silent but rampant presence of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. And while more and more people are speaking out about their experiences in the wake of the John Besh scandal, with the exception of Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés, very few—if any—leading male chefs have chimed in on the matter. Until now.
Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio finally joined the conversation this week, with an open letter to male chefs he posted on Medium. The restaurateur, who has been cooking professionally for 38 years, stresses that while the presence of sexual harassment isn't exactly a shocker to women (and men) in the kitchen, there's a difficult conversation to be had that's long overdue.
"Men vastly outnumber women as chefs in top kitchens, but not, as legend has it, because only 'real men' can stand the heat," he writes, but because of the "ugly machismo that runs through so many of them." He then outlines his own mistakes he's made while in charge of the kitchen, while also noting that for a brief stretch, the senior chefs at Gramercy Tavern, the restaurant he cofounded with Danny Meyer, were all women.
The letter comes shortly after Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy shared her own thoughts about being a woman in the food industry, criticizing the fact that female chefs has become a media buzzword only once the words sexual harassment allegations became involved.
"Deep down men know that sexist shit-talk is just a lazy substitute for real wit," Colicchio continues. "Sure, we all sweated and scrapped and worked damn hard to get where we are, but most of us did it without the added torment of sexual harassment. Enough."
He's issuing a challenge to male chefs far more important than working a short-staffed line on a Friday night or preparing mise en place for Sunday brunch: that they not only reevaluate the way they talk about and treat female chefs, but ask themselves a different question: "What barriers to their success do I owe it to them to remove?"
He concludes, "I'm betting we can reinvent our industry as a place where people of all genders feel safe and prepare to lead."
Restaurant workers, restaurant diners, what are your thoughts? Share them in the comments below.
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