Stressed-out staff, crazy work hours and aggressive attitudes are out. Gender pay equality, time off and more female chefs are in.
Instead of throwing knives across the kitchen, head chefs are using them to calmly coach staff to do better.
Sound too idealistic to be true?
It might not be, according to Perth-based chef Alia Glorie, a key player in the “new kind” chef movement, which encourages restaurants to operate on principles of consideration, nurturing, rest and recovery.
The head chef of Perth’s acclaimed Billie H says Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White have a lot to answer for. “Many years ago, there was that big ego in the kitchen, the old-school chef that would bang pots and pans and set fire to things, and generally misbehave,” she says. “That was their way of dealing with stress, and for some reason that became glorified.”
Today, yelling, tears, inappropriate jokes and discrimination are off the menu, as the male-dominated food industry globally experiences a cultural change towards kitchens becoming safer work environments.
At just 31 years old, Glorie is using her gender and the negative experiences of other female chefs to help all minority groups feel heard.
“Yes I call myself an angry feminist!” she laughs. “I’m sick of women chefs being scared to stand up for themselves, and being negative about their skill set because they’ve had to fight harder than men to get to where they are.
“But this change isn’t just about women’s rights, it’s about human rights, and everyone feeling safe. There’s a lot in the industry which needs to change.”
Starting with the hours, according to Glorie. Whereas the average Australian works 38.5 hours a week, she says kitchen staff can do up to three times that number. “On average, chefs do 60 to 80 hours a week, but at Christmas or busy periods, it can be 110 hours.
“We’re talking about a creative industry with stress,” she says. “We don’t allow people enough time to recover. If you’re sick, you work. If something happens in your family, you work. If you need a holiday, it’s hard to book that in.”
Glorie is guest speaker at the Good Food Month’s upcoming Culinary Women of Influence event on October 18, and says forums such as these help eliminate prejudices that women are weaker or less worthy chefs than their male counterparts, a frustration she deals with daily.
“When I do interviews for new staff, women don’t ask for the right amount of pay,” Glorie says. “In fact, women don’t even ask about the money at all, either in the trial or in the interview. I used to be exactly the same. Men will always ask for more money.”
At Billie H, she heads up an all-female kitchen which promotes positive learning, open communication and fair treatment. Incidentally, she didn’t seek to have all women chefs in her kitchen: “I believe you’re a good chef if you’re calm, intelligent, creative and you have an understanding of your ingredients. That can be in male or female form.”
Her team works about 50 hours a week, with half-hour breaks in each shift – which is unheard of in today’s commercial kitchens.
Paving the way for women
Culinary legends such as Kylie Kwong, Alla Wolf-Tasker, Stephanie Alexander and winemaker Vanya Cullen have paved the way in Australia for a new generation of passionate advocates, and as more women become head chefs and restaurateurs, a global change is near.
Glorie is one of 300 invitees to this year’s global MAD symposium, a two-day event in Copenhagen, started by NOMA chef Rene Redzepi. The theme for 2018 is Mind the Gap, where the discussion will centre on how to build a healthy, creative and fair restaurant community.
For women, Glorie says, that begins from the very first moment they step into a professional kitchen. “I knew from day one that I had to be better than all the men in the kitchen,” she says. “That carries with you, this mentality that you need to fight. It makes me the chef that I am, because I took that path, but it’s a lot of pressure for a young woman to take on.
“But I think big changes are going to happen very, very quickly. I see working conditions changing in the next five years. I’m very excited about that.”
Alia Glorie joins Alanna Sapwell, Karena Armstrong and Kylie Javier-Ashton in conversation at the Culinary Women of Influence. October 18, 6.30pm, Hyde Park Palms, Sydney. https://www.goodfoodmonth.com/events/culinary-women-of-influence/