Opinion: No-one should feel as if they are in a ‘toxic workplace'

After allegations of bullying came out from former staff at Tom Kitchin's restaurants, Rosalind Erskine says it's time we called time on toxic workplaces.

Published 9th Jul 2021
Updated 9 th Jul 2021

The collective narrative dictates that being - a chef involves highly stressful working conditions that will often involve being screamed at.

And while not exclusive to working in a kitchen, competitive cookery shows have played into this idea of a confrontational chef.

What I can’t understand is, why do we accept this?

In a week that has seen bullying allegations come out from former staff at chef Tom Kitchin’s restaurants, it’s time to call time on any kind of bad behaviour at work.

Kitchin, who has suspended two members of staff over the claims, said top venues can be "high-pressure, frenetic and challenging" environments where "emotions often run high", and has pledged to remedy instances if they had "fallen short".

It doesn’t need to be this way.

During an interview for The Scotsman’s Scran podcast, I spoke to chef Lorna McNee about her experiences with chef Andrew Fairlie, her mentor and boss.

Lorna likened working in his kitchen to a ballet - ‘quiet, organised and disciplined’ - during service.

She said of her time at the restaurant: “The way that Andrew worked and taught me to work is the way you ought to be with people.

"I don’t think you need to shout and scream at people to get the best from them. You need to treat them with respect and give them encouragement.”

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If the chef of Scotland’s only two Michelin Star restaurant could run a hugely successful kitchen without resorting to shouting, belittling or aggression, then why does anyone else feel the need?

The obvious conclusion is a misplaced sense of machismo and power, plus the misguided notion that because that’s how a chef or mentor treated trainees or waiting staff, it’s fine to perpetuate that behaviour.

Kitchin also referred to the "traditional culture in kitchens” in response to the allegations.

It’s time we started making new traditions to stamp out bad behaviour once and for all.

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Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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