A study has found that the physical isolation of chefs in kitchens contributes to bad behaviour and a culture of abuse.
The study by academics at Cardiff University, which surveyed 47 chefs at restaurants in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, found that working long hours, away from public scrutiny, in often cramped and windowless kitchens created a feeling that "the rules don’t apply" and a parallel moral universe in which abuse and violence is the norm.
Violent and abusive behaviour has long been cited as a factor that is driving young people away from the hospitality industry, and many leading chefs and industry figures have been calling for a change to this toxic and outdated culture.
The importance of stopping chefs' bad behaviour
The angry male chef is a well-known trope on our television screens and in the cinema, where currently Stephen Graham’s Boiling Point portrays just such a chef.
“People think what they see on TV is exaggerated but what happens is often more severe and has major implications for the mental health and wellbeing of these young, talented people,” said Dr Rebecca Scott, one of the study’s authors.
Despite the spotlight being shone on toxic kitchen work practices, the media is constantly updated with revelatory news stories on top restaurant kitchens and the abuse that continues behind closed doors. Many factors are considered to contribute to it, including toxic masculinity, an outdated militaristic brigade system, stress and substance abuse. However, this study - in collaboration with a professor of sociology, David Courpasson, in the French culinary hub of Lyon - concludes anyone wanting to stop bullying and intimidation should consider swapping confined kitchens that generate “the perceived ability to act in a generally disinhibited way” for open-plan working environments.
The study found that some chefs said they would neither inflict nor tolerate abuse outside the kitchen, however they found it “acceptable and normal” in the kitchen environment.
One chef, Anton, who worked in a restaurant with both an open and closed kitchen described “shouting”, “punching” and “throwing things” in the downstairs closed kitchen, but upstairs “they put on a show … they cannot throw stuff”.
Being isolated in the kitchen meant “there is an element of kind of getting away with stuff… physical abuse, you know… Being out of sight definitely allows abuse to happen and you do get away without any real consequences,” another chef told researchers.
Dr Robin Burrow, lecturer in organisational behaviour and management at Cardiff University, said isolation could “be experienced as a kind of freedom from scrutiny to do things that would not normally be possible”.
The study describes kitchen layouts as creating a “geography of deviance”, borrowing a phrase from criminology.