I talk about racism and harassment in this post, please read at your own discretion.
In the two years I’ve been working as a chef, I’ve seen the most amazing venues and kitchens, worked with food I’d never have the opportunity to make at home but on the flip side, I’ve experienced levels of racism, discrimination and harassment that would be shocking to a lot of people. I’ve come home from shifts, absolutely broken but I didn’t tell anyone what happened. There wasn’t any point, because that’s the reality of a black person in fine dining. My mum would see me look absolutely dead inside after a shift, and I’d tell her I’m just tired because I don’t want her to worry.
I used to write about the issues I faced at work in a joking manner, making light of the situations and really emphasising the fact that I worked long hours but skirting around what actually went on. The fact is, for most of my professional cooking career (before Covid hit and I wasn’t able to work), I was a black teenage girl in a kitchen full of much older white men. I think that sums it up quite well.
I’ve had my capabilities questioned, my suggestions ignored and I had one chef threaten to cut my braids off because he didn’t like the way they looked. It was maybe more than a threat, because I was approached with scissors and I said “If you touch my hair, you’re paying the £100 I spent on it.”
Working in the industry is hard and draining. Don’t listen to the cynical, washed out chefs who tell you it’s supposed to be like that, you’re supposed to be angry and depressed every shift because you aren’t. I’ve come out of shifts so excited, so inspired, no matter how tired I am and how long I’ve been working. I’ve done shifts that remind me why I love cooking so much and why I’m in the industry. The reason I’m drained and sad isn’t because I’m cooking all day it’s because the people I work with literally treat me like I’m subhuman and I can’t do anything about it.
The reason I’m drained and sad is because certain chefs feel so entitled to my space and my life that they can say the most disgusting things and get away with it.
No matter how long I’ve been working somewhere, no matter how long I’ve known these people, they’ll always act like I’m a new hire, desperate to prove myself and willing to do anything to show I have the skills. When in reality I know some of these menus and kitchens a lot better than my coworkers but I still have to fight to be respected.
There isn’t really an appropriate way to end this. I’m not sure exactly how to sign off because at the moment I’m upset thinking about what I, and so many young black women in the industry have gone through and will continue to go through.
I went to a predominately white school, I’ve always worked with mostly white people, and it was always uncomfortable to talk about race. I’d mention something and they’d get all awkward and angry with me for bringing it up. Even now, I feel weird bringing up race and my experiences in a professional environment if I know white people will be reading because I don’t want to look angry or ungrateful.
But fuck that.
I’m done skirting around the issue, I’m done hiding the fact that I’m uncomfortable just to keep people happy. Maybe finally discussing what I’ve gone through will inspire other people to do the same. And if people lose respect for me, I don’t really care because I don’t want your respect and you certainly don’t deserve mine.