Chef Chatter: Why you should embrace the 'Fair Kitchens movement'

Chef Chatter: Why you should embrace the 'Fair Kitchens movement'

Editor's note: Chef Chatter is a series featuring chef-authored blogs. If you'd like to write a Chef Chatter blog, send your idea to Cherryh Cansler at Click here and here for past installments.

By Chef Einav Gefen, executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions 
I have always loved food. As a child, I would collect recipes and spend hours in the kitchen with my mother. While I loved experimenting with food and trying new flavor combinations, the time I got to spend in the kitchen with my mother was something I still cherish to this day … and something I try to incorporate when I work in the kitchen today. 

Everyone in the food industry has a story like that — something that makes them excited about food and the opportunity to create culinary masterpieces. Some people were raised cooking in their grandparents' kitchen. Some simply have an unwavering love of food and wanted to turn that experience into something they can share with others. Food changes lives and the food industry is where that starts.   

But, so many people leave the industry because of long hours, stress and burnout. Unilever Food Solutions recently conducted a study that showed 74 percent of people in the food industry feel sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion and 63 percent report suffering from depression. While these numbers are alarming, they are real. Each of those statistics represents a real person struggling with the feeling they are alone — but they're not. 

We don't have to stand alone. We don't have to feel like we are the only ones experiencing what we're experiencing. But it requires change. It requires getting chefs to support chefs through training, support networks, events and more. That's why Unilever Food Solutions launched the Fair Kitchens movement. A Fair Kitchen is a positive, sustainable workplace — one where staff happiness is as important as diner satisfaction; one where everyone is respected and free to follow and build upon the five values expressed in "The Code."

Talk Openly. We speak out when we have something to say, we make sure others do the same.

Excite Passion. We train, mentor and inspire the next generation. We fuel their flame. 

Act As One. No matter our ethnicity, gender or religion, we share the same goal. We respect each other, hold back from abuse and ask "Are you okay?" if we think someone's not. 

Make Time. We make time for breaks — for fresh air and daylight. We rest, relax and recharge where we can. 

Say 'Good Job.' When one of us does a good job, we say it because a pat on the back can make their day. 

Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins is the executive chef/partner at El Jardin, a regional Mexican restaurant in San Diego, California. Inspired by the diversity of cuisine in Mexico, where her passion for food was first cultivated, El Jardin is an expression of Zepeda's culinary journey as a chef. Zepeda knows what it means to excite passion. 

"When people stop getting motivated, they'll look for another job," Zepeda said. "It's important to make sure everyone here is excited to come to work every day."

Zepeda understands that as important good food and happy customers are, employees come first. 

"At this point in my career, I know exactly who I want on my team," Zepeda added. "I love the people that are curious and ask questions, the self-starters."

Cooking is a language we are all fluent in and our passion for food is what makes this industry great. But, to keep that flame alive, we need to create kitchen cultures that are kinder and more open than what we've seen in the past. 

Michael Gulotta, owner of New Orleans restaurants Maypop and Mopho, knows that kitchens are stressful places, but is an advocate of paying employees back with a positive and supportive workplace. One important aspect is adequate time off. 

"We encourage everyone to do what they love when they're not here," said Gulotta. "I want to make sure everyone gets their rest so when they come in, they have the energy they need to get through a long shift." Gulotta also said adding a simple "please" and "thank you" in the kitchen can go a long way.

"I find that those can deescalate a stressful situation," said Gulotta. "But it has to be sincere so I try to make it as sincere as possible. I'll say, 'Thank you, this looks amazing.'" 

With 34 percent of people in the food industry feeling under-appreciated on a daily basis and 53 percent feeling pushed to a breaking point1, it's time to bring change — one kitchen at a time. We need to unite the industry by providing tangible solutions that will lead to a change for good. Fair Kitchens is that starting point, a common voice that reflects our values, nurtures our passion and puts our teams first. Let's use it to build a brighter future for the industry. 

Join us in taking part in 'An Hour for Us,' an opportunity to kickstart the Fair Kitchens movement. Pick an hour in the day, get together with your team and discuss what The Code means to you. Then, show the world you're part of the change for good by posting and using #AnHourForUs and #FairKitchens.

Topics: Back Office, Business Strategy and Profitability

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