It has always been my experience that kitchens are the great equalizer. Sure, I know that the environment of a kitchen can sometimes be tough and abrasive, it’s hot, humid, noisy, stressful, fast paced, and somewhat unforgiving, but…..all that being said – the kitchen is a place where who you are and what you believe in is far less important than what you do and how well you do it. I always found it gratifying to walk into a kitchen and find diversity of color, ethnicity, language, age, gender, sexual orientation, and certainly culinary heritage. It is this melting pot that makes a kitchen buzz, that gives it personality and character – that makes each day an experience.
Personally, I have never understood blatant prejudice that is based on erratic and unfounded perceptions that an entire race, gender, nationality, age group, or for that matter any group of people identified as different can be problematic or not worthy of respect. Where does this come from? Is it based on geography, historic bias, generational bias, or isolationism? Is it based on one groups feeling of superiority over another? Or is it some level of genetic tendency towards hateful action?
My answer is: spend time working in a kitchen. We are all different and that is precisely what makes us interesting and important. In kitchen life is pretty clear – there is loads of quality work to be done, work that requires attention to detail, process, knowledge of ingredients, an educated palate, and a commitment to doing things right. You are either in tune with that, or you are not. If you are then no one cares about how different you may be, they care that you can do the work and do it well. Later on that “difference” can come into play as a real positive. It is that difference that brings history, traditions, cultural nuances, new flavors, and great systems ideas to make a restaurant kitchen function better and continue to exceed customer expectations.
Spend a day in the kitchen and learn how those differences won’t separate you, but rather bring you together. To all chefs and operators – know that it is important to promote and support the environment where differences are celebrated and the unifying factor remains: can you do the job, are you willing to do the job, are you willing to learn how to improve, and will you strive for excellence in executing that job. Know that there are limitless opportunities to create a learning organization when we celebrate differences.
 HIRE COMPETENCE AND POSITIVE ATTITUDE
I know that this is already your method of operation, but it’s always an important reminder that what matters is their ability to do the job, willingness to learn how to do the job, commitment to excellence, and their all-in positive attitude. Everything else really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, or brown; it doesn’t matter if they are young or old; it doesn’t matter if they are male or female, gay or straight; it doesn’t matter what their ethnic background is; it doesn’t matter if they are Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative; it just doesn’t matter – they are all part of the kitchen team and united they stand, divided they fall.
 BUILD A WORK ENVIRONMENT OF RESPECT
As a chef or restaurant operator you set the tone for how the team treats each other. When you show respect for all people, regardless of how they might be different in some people’s eyes, then your team will emulate that approach. If some try to poison that environment of acceptance, inclusion and respect then they really do not belong on your team. There should always be the expectation of excellence, but never tolerance for exclusion or disrespect.
 TRAIN TOWARDS, INSIST UPON, AND SUPPORT EFFORTS TOWARDS EXCELLENCE
Some may try to cloud your approach by inferring that your respectful approach towards all is somehow a sign of weakness, but when you show respect while still building an environment of excellence then, and only then will you be able to build a winning team. Be respectful, but never drift from that insistence of excellence, that commitment to training toward excellence, and that support for all who view that as their obligation and motivation.
 BE FAIR AND EQUITABLE IN YOUR APPROACH
Respect begins with being equitable in your approach towards others. Again, when you focus on – can you do the job, are you willing to learn how to do the job, are you passionate about excellence, and do you view this commitment as your stake in the ground, and when you measure everyone on these attributes – then you will have built a real team.
 DO NOT TOLERATE DEMEANING INTERACTIONS IN YOUR KITCHEN
You are in control of the environment that people work in. When you tolerate ANY disrespect towards others, when you turn your eyes away from inappropriate, or hurtful behavior towards others, when you write it off as “that’s kitchen life”, or “you need to toughen up”, then the team will begin to crumble. Stay in control, teach and observe, call out poor behavior, and demonstrate through your own actions what the right approach should be.
 LISTEN TO DIFFERENCES AND BE WILLING TO LEARN FROM THEM
When you build an environment where people in your organization feel comfortable talking about their differences in a positive manner, when they are willing to share and you are willing to listen, then so much can be gained. We each bring powerful history, traditions, observations and ideas to the team if the team is open to what is presented. Build that environment and the whole organization can benefit.
You know how this can work, if you have been in a kitchen you will understand the outcomes of both a positive and negative work environment, you know that the responsibility starts at the top, and you know that a person’s attitude and behavior is, to a large degree, a reflection of his or her environment. Set the stage for excellence, inclusion, and opportunity.
For those who struggle with acceptance – I encourage you to work in a kitchen – a place where a melting pot of differences helps to create a perfect dish.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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