Allegations of sexual misconduct by famous chefs and restaurateurs, such as Mario Batali, are revealing the wild and sometimes illegal behaviors that thrive in environments of some top restaurants.
A few weeks ago, a woman filed a shocking sexual-harassment suit against a celebrated and powerful New York City figure. Gabrielle Eubank claimed chef Todd English and members of his Plaza Hotel Food Hall staff sexually harassed her, alleging that English — who has long been dogged by his womanizing behavior out of the kitchen — gave her unwanted hugs and repeatedly kissed her on the cheek.
Many other chefs and restaurateurs are now facing similar accusations.
Data compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at the request of Restaurant Insider found that 6.1 percent of all sexual harassment charges reported in 2016 were by workers in the restaurant industry.
That’s up from the previous year when it represented a total of 5.6 percent of all submitted cases, but a decline from 6.3 percent in 2014 and 7.5 percent in 2013. But that doesn’t mean the problem is going away.
Many people in the industry say its problems go far beyond high-flying personalities and celebrity chefs.
Chef Amy Brandwein, the owner of Centrolina in Washington, D.C., which is noted for its majority-female management team, says the high-stress, physically demanding job of working on a kitchen staff fosters an environment that is "like being on a football team."
"A lot of these things are power issues, they're not sex issues," she tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "It's about reinforcing the male stereotype, reinforcing a man's role in the kitchen.”
Restaurants have long had a reputation for butt-grabbing antics, but it has rarely been talked about, and accusers’ silence was often bought in the form of settlements. But now, with Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein being exposed as a serial sexual predator — and actually getting punished for it — the kitchen timer may finally be going off.
“Women are incredibly afraid to come forward,” said attorney Zoe Salzman, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, to The New York Post. “If it’s true of Hollywood actresses like Ashley Judd and Angelina Jolie, it has to be even more true for women who don’t have the financial and personal resources that actresses have. The restaurant industry, like a lot of industries, is marked by that same power dynamic.”
Another study by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, says there are numbers to support this sleazy narrative. A staggering 66 percent of female and more than half of the male restaurant employees reported having been sexually harassed by managers; 80 percent of women and 70 percent of men said they were victimized by co-workers.
Employment attorney Maimon Kirschenbaum said to The New York Post “the bad behavior is so accepted that some employees don’t even seem to realize when they are being abused. It wasn’t a big deal.”
But Salzman sees a silver lining in the Weinstein downfall. “This case is inspiring so many women, even women who are in low-income jobs [will hopefully] feel that they too can stand up and speak out,” she said. “They know now that what is happening is illegal.”