Part 7: Sex, Smut, and Violence
Anonymous, sous chef: The boss’s right-hand man found it very entertaining one time to throw me in the office, lock the door, and make me watch porn. He was like, “Come in here, come in here, I need to show you something.” And he locked the door. Oh my God. I wouldn’t say it was the worst porn, but maybe a step above that. I’m like, “I really gotta go.” He didn’t stand in front of the door, he let me go, but still. And I was like, “Oh man, I can’t say anything.” I know you’re supposed to report it, but I kind of want to keep my job. I’m gonna be blacklisted even though it’s not my fault. I don’t want to be that person. I just got there. I felt like it was easier to just erase it from my head. I just tried to avoid any other situations after that. Like, run away. I had never told that story before.
Anonymous, executive chef: I had a boss who hooked up with a lot of waitresses. That’s fine. I don’t care. But I walked in the office really early one morning, and he’s doing one of them from behind, and there’s coke all over the desk, there’s a bottle of whiskey tipped over on my computer, and it’s frozen on a cock shot. It all happened in one second. He’s got his back to me, he hears the door open, and he kicks the door shut.
Renee Marton, culinary instructor, former executive chef: I had a sous chef at [the legendary, now-defunct] Florent in the Meatpacking District who had a severe crush on one of the other cooks in the kitchen. She wasn’t that interested in him, but he was totally besotted. And they were having an argument in the kitchen once, and he picked up a cleaver and went after her. He had it up in the air and he was running after her. He was in a state of rage. And I think she was cowering in the corner, but I grabbed his hand and yanked it backwards. I said, “Get out right now, and I never want to see you again.” And he looked totally astonished, as if he couldn’t believe I would say such a thing.
Anonymous, executive chef: I used to get to work at like 5:45 in the morning, open, and then the dish crew would roll in around 6. And one morning, I’m changing, and this 60-year-old scumbag comes up behind me, like, Come on baby, trying to rip my bra off because he thinks we’re the only two people there. I’m screaming and fighting him off, and I hear somebody coming downstairs. He grabs the guy, punches him, and tells me, “Run upstairs, run upstairs.” He tells him, “I’m reporting it.” And the guy is like, “You can’t report me, she’ll get fired.” That was the first concern. We didn’t know how the boss would react. Is he gonna say this is why we can’t have women in the kitchen, because it tempts men to do these things? They could get sued. So I said, “Just tell the boss, but tell him I’m cool. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m doing the job.” He told the boss, and the boss immediately fired the guy. But then, even though I didn’t talk about it, everyone wanted to know why he got fired, and when they heard, they were all mad at me. I had runners who wouldn’t even pick up dessert from my station after that.
Pnina Peled, executive chef: Maybe 13 years ago, I had two cooks come into my office, they closed the door, they locked it. I was sitting at my desk. One was 6’2”, one was 6’5”. They worked for me. And these guys were giving me problems from day one. It was a union hotel, and one of the guys was the hotel shop steward. First thing out of his mouth was, “I’m going to either get you fired, or you’re gonna quit.” So I sat back down in my chair, and I said, “Really? And how do you plan on doing that?” He said, “You’re gonna see. You’re gonna see what I do to you.” And he’s now in my face, and the other guy is now right behind me. He was intimidating, but my Father always taught me not to ever back down from anybody, even if it means getting your ass kicked. So I basically told them, “Okay, are you done? Did you say what you have to say to me? Do you feel good about it? Now turn around, and take your fucking friend, and get the fuck out of my office.” He looked at me shocked that I would even speak to him that way. And he started to yell. And I picked up the phone and I said, “I’m giving you an opportunity to walk out of my office, if you don’t, I’ll call security and they’ll remove you from my office. Which do you prefer?” He gave me a look and walked out.
Long story short, I documented everything this guy did. I ended up sitting in arbitration with him at the union house, and I got him suspended for one month without pay, which is really rare for the unions. And after a month, that guy came back like a dog. Like a dog. Trying to talk to me, trying to befriend me. For the month he was suspended everyone was quiet in that kitchen every single day. They got it. Even still today I tell my staff -- and this is my favorite quote -- don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.
Anonymous, executive chef: I was hired to open a place as executive chef. And after I worked 120 straight days the owners told me to take some time off. I sniffed something was up, but I took a few days off. When I came back, they called me into the office and said, “We don’t need you. We’re going to keep your staff, but we don’t need you.” And I was like, “You can’t do that.” They’re like, “Yeah we can." I asked, "What if I try to fight this?" And they said, “Then we’ll go to the press and we’ll tell ‘em you were fucking the owner." I was laughing I was so pissed. That job ended with me going home and not working for three months. I was terrified I’d never be able to get a job. I’ve heard stories of people who got blacklisted because they filed for unemployment. Because owners talk.
Katrina Cunning, chef and owner, The Hot Knife Catering: When those rumors start to go around, whether they’re true or not, it’s always viewed differently depending on whether it’s a female or a male. It’s even portrayed in movies -- like, the male cook is sleeping with the female owner and it’s sexy. But the other way around and it’s sad and you’re a slut."