Batali prays - © The Chew

Sex Abuse Scandals Hit Restaurant Sector

I’m going to make myself controversial, here, but I feel that what I am going to say needs to be said. The food world is finally getting on the Sex Abuse Crusade bandwagon. Celebrity Chefs are being accused of improprieties with female staff and one has already ‘stepped aside’ from his business…

Batali on The Chew - © via imagurMario Batali, far right, on the set of The Chew with a panel of fellow celebrity Chefs…

Mario Batali, famed Italian-American Chef and TV star, has been suspended by ABC in the states until an investigation can be completed unto allegations that he abused female colleagues on the set of his network program, The Chew. Batali has also ‘stepped away’ from his restaurant business, Batali & Bastianich, as a result. In the restaurant business, image and reputation are everything – after great food and fantastic service, of course.

Batali has been accused by at least four women, according to Eater New York, and the allegations go back at least twenty years, to a time when  he was just beginning to build his restaurant empire. Just this past October, an employee of one of his restos reported ‘inappropriate behaviour’ to the company, over Batali’s head. The chef was ordered to undergo sensitivity training as a result.

A long term ‘affair’…

Clearly, the allegations against Batali date back a long time. But I am here to tell you that he’s not the only big-name Chef who is likely to have women come out of the woodwork and accuse him of ‘inappropriate behaviour’. And not just women.

When I started culinary school, one of my Chef-Instructors, who will remain nameless here, set his new, green, unsuspecting students straight on the restaurant business. In fact, he sat us down, on day one, before we ever diced an onion or turned on a burner. I paraphrase:

“The restaurant business is tough. Your bosses are going to be pretty harsh sometimes. They’re going to be constantly under pressure to save a buck on costs where they can and still ensure their food is better than the next guy’s. And the clock is your enemy. More so, your boss. If he’s not the owner, he’s probably struck a deal with the money guy to have every entrée out of the kitchen in twenty minutes or less, and he’s probably been promised a bonus at the end of the month if he stays under budget.”

That much we had already guessed, but the bomb shell was still to come:

“Even if your boss isn’t having a bad day in the kitchen, he will almost certainly yell at you, curse at you, even throw things at you. He’ll dump your food in the garbage if it displeases him. You can also expect physical abuse. I once worked for a Chef who slapped his line cooks across the face if they screwed up. Bullying is a way of life, especially in some high-end, fine dining establishments where the pressure is particularly high.

And here’s the clincher…

“And, ladies… Many of the guys my age, who have opened restaurants around the world like I did, and supervised top-drawer kitchens like I did, still think the restaurant kitchen is no place for women. And you, ladies, may well become a special target for a particularly old-school, particularly nasty Chef. I know that seems hard to believe, in this day and age. But it’s true. I’m not here to tell you fairy tales, or claim that things are changing for the better in the industry. I’m telling you how it is. If you don’t think you can take it, walk out that door over there now. You can still get your money back for the course.”

Its endemic…

Abuse of all underlings is endemic in the Restaurant business. Many big-name celebrity Chefs are men and most of them got where they are on a diet of bluster and testosterone, and an extraordinary drive to succeed. To beat the other guys. They’re Type A alpha males who have fought their way to positions of power and are determined to do whatever it takes to stay on top. And they come to a point of desperation where they justify abusing their human assets and demeaning women under their control as a means to their end.

It’s a common story, in every field where there are ‘stars’. No surprise Hollywood has been racked by sex abuse scandals lately. And high-level politicians often fit the ‘Alpha Male power monger’ profile too. Witness the purge of formerly respected congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill.

When will it end?

It won’t end until humanity evolves out of its current place, where men still react based on their fundamental hormonal instincts and what they’ve learned growing up by watching other men. They will continue to try to suppress their feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure by subjugating those beneath them. And that includes women, who men feel they must control and dominate or lose face. It’s what remains of the old ‘caveman’ concept, where the man wins his mate by bonking her over the head and dragging her back to his place by the hair. We don’t do that anymore, but the dynamic remains the same.

I’m not claiming things will get much better any time soon. I’m just telling you how it is.

~ Maggie J.