The Harassment Stories Keep Coming, So Now What?

While many people were holiday-ing, another big-name chef “stepped down” from his restaurant group. Oakland, California’s Charlie Hallowell took a leave of absence from much-loved restaurants, Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service, and Penrose after 17 women came forward with graphic, on-the-record accounts of sexual harassment in his businesses. Of note, whereas Mario Batali was scrubbed from his businesses’ public pages after stepping down, Hallowell’s bio and involvement still appears on his restaurants’ websites.

Also of note, especially to this San Francisco local: Bottega, Coqueta (both helmed by Michael Chiarello), Tosca Cafe (co-owned by Ken Friedman), Pizzaiolo, and Boot & Shoe remain on San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer’s list of 100 best restaurants in the bay area, with nary a word to any allegations or news… even though the paper’s food writer, Tara Duggan, broke the Hallowell news. In a sense, it’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, but in reality, it may be a refusal by leaders to actually address the problem.

The New York Times critic Pete Wells addresses the issue in yesterday’s column, writing, “What has been so infuriating, though, is how few leaders in the industry have been willing to go on record against the behavior itself — behavior that was, after all, banned by federal law several decades ago.” What Wells doesn’t do, though, is call out specific people who should be addressing this behavior (beyond Anthony Bourdain, adding that he’s been out of the kitchen for over a decade).

What the column does do, is explain to a broad audience, perhaps not as attuned to the day-to-day operations of the restaurant world, why reports of harassment in kitchens may continue until industry leaders do something to actively change kitchen culture. But it stops short.

While food Twitter pulls quotes from the piece (and to be fair, the one about chickens was particularly poignant), many call out Wells for failing to mention that many in the industry — including plenty of women — have actually outlined solutions to the problem. There’s Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen, quickly responding to the piece with a reminder that she, and other women in the industry, have suggested solutions. There’s Eater’s restaurant editor, Hillary Dixler Canavan, reminding readers of restaurateur Jen Agg’s nearly one-year-old op-ed calling for more attention and action around sexism, harassment, and discrimination.

Sure, the piece is a good top-level look into the problem and why it will continue, but it’s otherwise pretty soft where it could be aggressive. In which case, Wells is using his platform for the exact thing he’s accusing restaurant leaders of: inaction.

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