In the wake of #MeToo, many chef leaders of the industry have been reckoning with the way they run their own restaurants. How do we need to change? How can we be better owners and mentors to our staff? What responsibility do we have to future generations of chefs and restaurateurs? We spoke to Gabriel Kreuther, renowned chef/owner of the Michelin-starred Gabriel Kreuther in New York about how he, as the owner of a famed fine dining spot brought up in the European, old-guard style of restaurants, is taking words to action in terms of making the industry a better place.
I grew up in Europe, and I did my apprenticeship in Europe. I was working in kitchens that were what everybody talks about — violent and harsh. And then I went to work in my uncle’s restaurant kitchen and the environment was different. It was calmer. From that point on, I tried to work in kitchens that followed similar values — where people were respected, the proper way. I once worked as a sous chef in a place in Switzerland where there were no voices that were louder than the others. I asked the chef, “How come in your kitchens there are no voices that are louder than the others?” And he smiled and said that he grew up in these crazy kitchen environments and that there are nice ways of doing things that get you the same effect.
Being nasty doesn’t get you a better result. That was the beginning of my understanding that there are leaders out there who are trying to do the right thing.
When it came time to open my own restaurant, I tried to abide by the principle of dignity — respecting people and treating them like human beings. People are encouraged to voice their opinions and speak openly when they feel uncomfortable. We quickly get rid of people who are not respecting others. We try to make everyone feel welcome. I encourage everyone to find research projects, whether it has to do with a technique or a story about their background. I love that we have such a diverse staff that allows for these types of exchanges, which we do not just for the cooks but with the front of the house as well. We provide three months of paid maternity leave — I became a father eight months ago, and it’s crazy how in this country there is not much help at all for people when they have kids.
We also do culinary exchanges at the restaurant — we send people to different restaurants for a couple of weeks to a month and they learn a different approach, a different form of cooking. It really opens their minds, and it’s also a way of thanking them and helping them craft a path for themselves. In this country, people just view working in a restaurant as another job. They do three months here, six months there. It is never a career. I want to change that.
If people see the restaurant business as a career, there will be more of an incentive to be a part of changing the culture for the better, which is so important right now.
All restaurateurs and, particularly male restaurateurs, need to be better at welcoming women into the group at high levels. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or the color of your skin — if you are good, you are good. I have tried to approach all situations like that — focusing on people as human beings. There are still so many restaurants that have been around for decades where it is just a group of men that have been in the same place for a long time. Those environments need to change.
The next thing you can do is just keep the conversation going. Talk about these issues! Find restaurants that are doing good things and point them out and work together to get a positive movement going. That’s the only way the good will take over the bad. It’s like the broken window problem — if you have a broken window in a big building and you don’t fix it, then you eventually get two more broken windows, and then the next thing the whole building is garbage. It’s just going to fall apart.
We are hopefully in the middle of a rebirth as an industry. By being receptive to change and learning from others’ examples, we can do some real good. That’s what I hope to do.
Photo credit: Paul Wagtouicz.