Most chefs have been there – that point of exasperation when something isn’t going as planned, when a staff member didn’t follow through, when that order came back for a re-fire, or when a vendor sent disappointing products to your back door. You tense up, blood flows to your head, you grit your teeth, and when the kettle starts to boil over – you lash out at someone, anyone, with a tirade of demeaning comments, anger at its worst, sometimes vile language all in an effort to relieve the stress that you are not sure how else to handle. Everyone else in the kitchen put their heads down with a new commitment to focus on what is in front of them or find a corner of the walk-in or storeroom where they can hide until the storm passes.
For generations the demeaning nature of chefs has been tolerated and almost accepted as “part of the environment and culture” of the kitchen. Today’s harassment culture is no longer acceptable and the excuse of “It’s a stressful job and chef’s need to be tough to get the job done” has been proven counterproductive and illegal.
So why do chefs seem to carry this purge of anger on their shoulders and have a need to treat their staff with such contempt? What could possibly be the end game, the benefit, and the advantage of management by fear? In modern kitchens the role of the chef must be focused on supporter, trainer, problem solver, and leader from a position of calm and methodical example instead of tyrannical demon. The following is a taste of the results of and reasons for typical hostile action by the chef in the kitchen:
 LIABILITY AND THE HOSTILE WORK ENVIRONMENT
There are many cultural and humanitarian reasons for keeping anger in check, but it is wise to point out that when a supervisor uses anger and harassment as a tool he or she puts their employer in a litigious position. A hostile work environment will not be tolerated by law – providing the recipient of verbal abuse, the opportunity to litigate.
“Harassment becomes unlawful when:
- Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a prerequisite to continued employment, or
- The conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
 YOUR REPUTATION PRECEDES YOU
When a chef’s unacceptable outbursts and demeaning approach towards staff members becomes a habit then word gets around. Why would anyone want to work for such an individual? Keeping in mind that the most important asset that a kitchen has is the cohesiveness of the team and the most challenging part of a chef’s job is building such a team, then a reputation focused on abusive behavior makes this task impossible. Why would any employer want to put the kitchen team in a vulnerable position and accept the liability that goes along with a history of a chef’s harassment behavior? Volatile chefs will eventually find their employment opportunities to be few and far between.
 IMPOSSIBLE TO BUILD A WINNING TEAM
When a chef pauses to reflect on how to build a successful restaurant, he or she will quickly see that it is not designed around one individuals talent, but rather the entire teams ability to work well together, respect each others contribution, and accept a common goal. Abusive behavior always gets in the way of creating this synergy. Anger and the opportunity for success are contrary to each other.
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg
 THE IMPACT ON FOOD
This may seem a stretch, but I firmly believe that the supportive atmosphere that exists in the restaurant impacts the flavor of the food produced in a kitchen. When people are passionate about their craft, feel supported and well-trained, are listened to and respected, critiqued without being criticized, and given an opportunity to offer ideas and opinions, then the food will reflect those positive feelings. Angry chefs produce angry food.
 ANXIETY AND PERSONAL HEALTH
There is considerable work in the field of psychology that points to anger as a secondary emotion and not something onto itself. In other words, anger comes from some other emotive condition. This might be fear, embarrassment, anxiety, depression, or a lack of self-confidence. When a chef loses his or her temper, or demeans a fellow human being, you might consider looking at the driver of this emotion. Does the chef demean an employee because he or she realizes that they have not done a good job of training? Is this lashing out a way to hide his or her own lack of ability to prepare the person to do the job well? Is the chef faced with an acute fear of failure and points to another person as a way to shift blame? Does the chef mistake what he or she does with the person that he or she is and as such view another employees mistake as a personal assault? In all cases, everyone’s health (physical, mental, and emotional) is impacted by these outbursts and in the end only serve to hide the real issues.
 RESPECT MUST BE EARNED
All chefs require and expect that employees, peers, and even guests will respect them for their position and for their demonstrated skills. Respect is not a one-way street – so to gain respect from others the chef must demonstrate equal respect for those around he or she. Regardless of position or level of experience – every person deserves to be respected as a human being – treated properly, listened to, and acknowledged. This cannot happen once in a while, it must be an every moment process – a habit that is natural – a habit that others can anticipate.
 CARRY OVER TO PERSONAL LIFE
Anger is typically not something that can be turned on and off. When a person, a chef in this case, allows anger into his or her life, then it becomes a part of who they are and how they act. Rarely can this be the persona of an individual at work without drifting into relationships at home. Angry and demeaning chefs are typically angry and demeaning husbands, wives, parents, and friends. The more anger is in control, the less power the individual has to turn in off.
 THAT EMPTY FEELING
At the end of the day, after a challenging 10-12 hour shift in the kitchen, a chef is always hopeful that his or her image in the mirror will be worthy of a thumbs-up, a nod of approval. When anger is in control then that mirror image is one of disappointment, emptiness, and pity. Anger never leaves a great taste in your mouth – it keeps sending that bitterness to the palate.
 DON’T CONFUSE EMPATHY, LISTENING, AND SUPPORT WITH WEAKNESS – THEY ARE EXAMPLES OF TRUE STRENGTH
Some may say that the chef must be tough – the work is far too demanding to be warm and fuzzy with those who work around you. The minute that a chef shows empathy then the world will see his or her weak side and take advantage of the situation. Chefs who are cool, calm and collected will be seen as weak and lacking in the ability to stay in control. This is bunk. You can be kind, empathetic, and firm at the same time – this is what defines great leaders.
 YOU WILL EVENTUALLY LOSE YOUR JOB – REGARDLESS OF YOUR TALENT OR EXPERIENCE – EMPLOYERS CANNOT TOLERATE HARASSMENT
In the end, if you allow anger to control who you are then there will be a breaking point. Chefs who have this character flaw will lose their job, ruin their career prospects, lose friends, distance themselves from family members, and carry the scab of an out of control person not worthy of support. What a terrible place to be.
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
“Be the kind of person that you would like to work for.”
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
Thanks to Chef Dan Hugelier for sharing the following article that inspired this blog post.