With a strong statement and strongly-worded post on Instagram, chef David Kinch has withdrawn himself from the 'Outstanding Chef' nomination by the James Beard Awards for 2020.
The three-Michelin-starred chef said that in the midst of the global pandemic it didn’t feel correct to be celebrating achievements when the industry was facing devastation.
The chef, who runs Manresa in the U.S, posted his withdrawal alongside a transparent and honest reflection on the restaurant industry. He said that what has been referred to as the “Golden Age” of restaurants is more accurately the “Gilded Age”.
“We have been pretending that we could continue to support our employees, front and back-of-house, maintain a level of service, equality, and innovation, while welcoming our guests each day - knowing in our hearts that it could never be,” wrote Kinch.
He urged the industry to also take some time to reflect and to consider the unprecedented challenges of Covid-19 as a catalyst for conversations about issues “that have held us back previously”.
“THIS IS OUR RESET BUTTON,” wrote the chef. “The hospitality industry is rife with rampant gender and racial inequality, and numerous obstacles impede restauranteurs ability to pay living wages to their teams, focus on sustainability, and foster positive work environments.”
Kinch echoed what others like Amanda Cohen have been saying for years in the U.S that tipping systems should be abolished to achieve more balance between front and back of the house. “Now is the time to embrace service charges and join the 21st Century and the rest of the world in paying a fair, competitive wage.”
He also echoed what many have been pushing for, including the James Beard Foundation, that customers should and will have to pay their part in helping change the industry for the better.
Kinch reiterated that this was a personal decision and that it was “not a reflection on anyone who be will be rightly recognized by the Foundation this year.”
In making the stance, he has joined a growing number of chefs who have taken steps and introduced measures in recent years to make restaurant work more sustainable for the millions of people employed by the hospitality sector around the world. Teague Moriarty based in the same area as Kinch’s restaurant has said he will reopen with a profit-sharing model. Many chefs like Sat Bains in the UK and Ben Shewry in Australia have been working on finding balance in work schedules for staff and leaders like Sean Brock have been championing the idea of better mental health in kitchens for a long time. None of this is possible without healthy, sustainable, business models. Perhaps these conversations - ideas, innovations and, most importantly, the freedom to try new things - will be the silver lining of this pandemic.