Paris chefs call for end to French kitchen violence

By Clea Caulcutt
BBC News, Paris

image copyrightMatthieu Cellard
image captionFrench star TV chef Cyril Lignac (R) calls on fellow chefs to talk more openly about violence

Several top chefs, including France's TV star cook Cyril Lignac, gathered in Paris this week to denounce violence in French kitchens.

This episode in soul-searching was sparked when an assistant chef was fired in April from the prestigious restaurant, Le Pre Catelan. He had been caught burning a young recruit several times with a small, white-hot spoon.

Many of the chefs reflected on their tough starts as apprentices in great establishments, where they were forced to endure insults, slaps and even punches.

"I remember slurs from the male staff," said Adeline Grattard. "'You're hot, you should wear a see-through top,' they would tell me."

Now she runs the three-star Yam'tcha restaurant. "It used to make me so angry, and so keen to assert myself."

As an apprentice, Ms Grattard was asked to carry heavier objects than her male counterparts. It was a punishment, she said, for being a woman.

"We are getting used to a level of violence that is not acceptable," says Chef Gerard Cagna, who was spurred into writing a manifesto that calls for an end to the "trivialisation" of bullying and violence.

"It starts innocently with small blows, a hand here, or a slap with a spatula there."

image captionChef Gregory Marchand, at his restaurant Frenchie, says he suffered verbal abuse while working in London

Chefs, however, admit it is difficult to tell when rough camaraderie crosses the line and becomes abuse.

"You really do have to raise your voice in the kitchen, says Christian Etchebest, who runs La Cantine du Troquet Dupleix. "How else are you going to control a team of 25 young men who left school aged 14?"

"People have to stop believing what they see on TV cooking shows. It's hard and there's a lot of pressure when you join a two- or three-star restaurant," he said.

At their meeting in Paris, the assembled chefs agreed to look for new ways to reduce tensions in the kitchen.

"When I moved to the US, I used to shout all the time at my employees, I ended up in court," says Ludovic Lefebvre, owner of the Trois Mecs in Los Angeles.

"It's different over there. You talk more openly, you resolve your problems together."

Mr Cagna remembers the physical abuse he suffered as a young apprentice chef and hopes to distribute his anti-bullying manifesto more widely, to convince chefs to think about violence in their own kitchens.

He has already attracted significant backing, notably from the head chef at the Elysee Palace, Guillaume Gomez.

As for the young apprentice burned at Pre Catelan, the restaurant says the assistant chef that abused him lost his job and the group behind this week's meeting of top chefs says the era of silence is over.

image captionFood is prepared at Christian Etchebest's restaurant La Cantine du Troquet Dupleix

Related Topics