How One Chef Broke The Silence In His Own Kitchen To Protect It

One small step for Seattle chef Jeffrey Vance, one giant leap for kitchen-kind.

February 27, 2018 ● 3 min read

As told to Cassandra Landry by Jeffrey Vance | Illustrations via iStock, Collage by ChefsFeed

All the news that's coming out around sexual harassment and assault and how pervasive it's been within the industry naturally starts a conversation in the kitchen.

Cooks pay attention to the news, especially when it’s these chefs that everybody is aware of. And I've been paying attention, too—chefs are talking to each other. I brought it up a few weeks ago at a manager meeting, and was like, look, I think this is something we should get out in front of, and come up with a policy or a set of procedures to deal with this kind of thing if it happens here. Because we're a mom-and-pop. We're not this corporate giant with all these systems in place.

We got the entire company together, and had a really great meeting. The reaction was incredible, actually—a lot better than we had hoped.

We talked about how we deal with certain things, whether it's another employee that's making somebody feel uncomfortable, or if it's a guest. Because it's not just in the workplace—we're a bar. People come in, and they drink. They feel entitled to treat us a certain way.

But once you learn how to open that discussion and manage it, it becomes a very rewarding thing. I have employees who are happy to be here, who are stoked on the fact that we can talk about this. As a leader, it's something that I have to come to them with, instead of them coming to me. You know what I mean? When you're a young cook, you want to be creative and you think that everything that you do is about cooking and the guest experience. Once you get into something like a sous chef role, you start realizing that a lot of what your job is about is managing people's personalities. I think that was probably the hardest thing for me to adjust to; it’s not just the food on the plate. This is just one facet of that.

If you're running a huge kitchen, you might have 25 people working for you. At No Anchor, I have six employees, including dishwashers. At Navy Strength, I have three. Separating your emotions and the way that you feel about them personally and doing your job and being professional can be hard because you are so close. We don't want everything to be just black and white. We view each other as a family.

Just because there isn’t a precedent in your business, doesn't mean that there isn't one out there. Being mindful of how you're going to react to certain situations is helpful, but it's also helpful to research maybe how other people that are successful have dealt with these kinds of things. We're taking a cue from the corporate world and starting to document disciplinary actions, but it's one of those things where it depends on what the problem is. For example, a lot of our employees don't live very close to work. Maybe they have a problem getting to work on time because of transportation. Maybe they have a problem with closing because their bus doesn't run to their house past a certain time of night. What can I do when those kinds of issues arise to make sure that we're still running the business effectively but also helping that person out?

When I was coming up, my chef didn't care. It was, "I hired you. You're here to do the job. Get your ass to work however you have to. If you have to walk, I don't care. Call a taxi. Whatever." We can't treat people that way anymore.

So it's a huge part of what's going on actually right now at work. It was weird and uncomfortable and kind of a conversation you don't really want to have in the beginning, but we're breaking down a lot of barriers, I think, and making sure that we can move forward in a positive way.