When John Besh was accused of sexual misconduct, one woman described her workplace as a “culture where sexual harassment flourished.” For many females (and males) in the restaurant industry, these claims don’t come as much of a surprise. In an effort to reinvent the way cooks think, celebrity chef Tom Colicchio is asking “real men” to acknowledge the larger culture that fosters sexism and harassment toward women in the kitchen.
“Assessing a woman as a body, rather than a person with a mind, character, and talent, denies the full measure of her humanity. It’s wrong and it demeans us all,” Colicchio wrote in a post on Medium. “Deep down men know that sexist shit-talk is just a lazy substitute for real wit. They know that work is not sexy time. They know that if they have to insist it was consensual, it probably wasn’t.”
But Colicchio isn’t perfect either. He admits he once called a journalist a “rumor-mongering b----“ for printing gossip that hurt his staff, a “gendered slur” he now regrets. But he credits a strong upbringing for molding him into the empathetic person he is today — Colicchio’s father strictly prohibited any disrespect toward his mother.
This made it an easy choice for the chef to deny some high-paying bachelor parties that have wanted to rent out a restaurant’s private dining room to host a stripper. It was also a “no-brainer” to fire the “creep of a staffer” who photographed female coworkers in the changing room.
“Let’s scrap those beloved myths about brawn, blood, and blind sacrifice that chefs and their acolytes use to justify exploitative work conditions,” Colicchio wrote. “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.”
In the 22 days since The New Orleans Times-Picayune published its exposé on Besh, Colicchio is one of the few leading chefs to come forward to address hostile restaurant culture. Anthony Bourdain has also spoken on the issue, railing against “meathead culture” and promising to be a better ally for women.
Colicchio and Bourdain are two of the most prominent culinary personalities to speak out against abuse in the restaurant industry. Here’s hoping that more of America’s 25 most successful chefs lend their voices soon.