Monday, August 24, 2020

Rant: Why Protect "Bad" Chefs?

In recent months, I've seen a few chefs on social media allege that 85%-95% of chefs are basically "bad" employers. However, those chefs didn't provide any evidence to support their allegations, and, to the best of my knowledge, have failed to specifically identify any offenders. Without proof and specificity, their statements are essentially meaningless. Why won't they provide more information? Why be so vague yet derogatory to so many of their colleagues? 

Is there an unwritten rule among chefs that you don't specifically call out each other?

Last week, a local chef, who eventually was identified on social media as Michael Scelfo, of Alden & Harlow, the Longfellow Bar, and Waypoint, was accused of years of bad behavior. However, specifics were scant, and despite the alleged length of this offensive behavior, none of the mainstream/traditional media has previously written about this matter. It's alleged that one such article was in the works, but that still means that years have passed without any such coverage. Why has the media failed to cover these long-term accusations for so many years? Or have they already investigated the matter and found the accusations to have no merit?

Much of the information on social media about this chef is still just insinuation and allegation. And the average consumer has probably never heard anything about this chef's alleged bad behavior. If the chef has actually engaged in this bad behavior, then why has the chef been allowed to get away with it for so long? Why hasn't anyone come forward with specific evidence against this chef? Again, it must be questioned whether there is any merit to the allegations. 

I've also seen insinuations and vague allegations of bad behavior of other specific chefs, yet once again, there is a clear lack of proof offered to support any of it. Even when asked, those making the allegations generally fail to provide proof of their claims, despite their vehemence against the chef's alleged bad behavior to inform the public? Or were reports actually made to various authorities, but they lead to no action being taken? 

If any of these allegations were true, evidence would likely exist yet why hasn't it seemingly been offered up? Do the victims fear retribution, such as being blacklisted in the industry? I suspect, especially now, that there would be a significant number of restaurants which would hire these individuals for taking such a courageous stand against an offending chef. 

Why is the mainstream/traditional media not writing about these matters? Why are others chefs reluctant to specifically call out their offending colleagues? Shouldn't they want to help clean up their industry? Without such proof, these offending chefs can continue their bad behavior for years without consequence. Some even receive very positive press and accolades despite their bad behavior.

I don't know whether Scelfo is guilty or not of the accusations which have been made against him. I haven't seen sufficient proof to convince me either way. However, there is definitely a potential story there which the mainstream/traditional media appears to have ignored for years. And if they have investigated the matter, and found no merit, then maybe that should have been a story as well. 

There are other chefs out there as well where vague accusations of wrongdoing have been made, yet no one is investigating and writing about them either. It seems that it is the rare local chef who actually is brought to task for his bad behavior, like Todd English, whose bad behavior has been written about in multiple publications. He is the exception though and other offenders escape public scrutiny. 

Is there a fear of legal recourse if specific allegations and evidence are offered? That is certainly possible, but making unsubstantiated allegations could also possibly lead to legal action, such as a defamation action. And such a threat of potential legal action isn't stopping these unsubstantiated allegations from being made. However, the presentation of sufficient evidence about a chef's bad behavior could provide an excellent defense against legal action. The mainstream/traditional media generally have legal counsel which could assist in crafting articles about such bad behavior and avoid legal issues. 

Are there unwritten rules in the restaurant industry which prevent chefs and other restaurant employees from providing proof of a chef's bad behavior? If so, maybe those rules need to vanish, so that the industry can become better. Every industry has bad apples and they need to be eliminated. Their offending behavior needs to be exposed and curtailed. Vague allegations and insinuations are insufficient to prevent bad behavior. 

Who shall step forward and make a stand? Who shall take the lead and expose bad behavior, helping to make a better industry? Will the mainstream/traditional media delve into these issues? Or is this a matter which independent bloggers and other writers can or should address? 

Bloggers definitely could write such articles, though I expect many would be wary of doing so, especially over legal concerns. Few bloggers have attorneys on call to defend them in case litigation is brought against them for such articles. And the financial cost of such a legal defense would be a strong deterrent. On a more practical side, these types of articles require lengthy research, including the interviewing of multiple witnesses, and many bloggers don't have sufficient free time to dedicate to such matters. Some bloggers might also fear retribution from other chefs. 

In the end, will anyone write about the accusations against these chefs, or will people continue to whisper in the shadows, accomplishing nothing, allowing bad behavior to thrive?


Patrick Maguire said...

Excellent post and conversation starter, Richard. The stories about unethical restaurant and business owners and managers need to be shared publicly to encourage more workers/victims to come forward and speak up to seek justice for themselves and other victims, rather than suffering in silence for fear of shame and retribution. Their stories and testimony will also dissuade guilty owners and managers from continuing their unacceptable behavior. I despise sycophantic chef ‘worship’, especially on IG from peers who are fully aware of impropriety and unethical behavior from ‘bad’ chef/owners and managers who have had a severe detrimental impact on the personal and professional lives of their staff, fellow industry brothers and sisters, vendors, investors, guests, and all ‘good people’ who have supported those ‘bad actors’ for too long. The era of enabling toxic, scumbag chef/owners and managers should be long behind us, but it will continue unless more people speak up. And credible food media can't continue to ignore the hard work and journalistic integrity required to cover the untold, negative stories. You find out what people’s true colors are by their consistent actions over time, not just by what they say, but by what they do, especially under duress. COVID-19 has brought that to the fore, and we need to insist upon accountability and consequences for impropriety, and unethical, and fraudulent behavior. Silence from the media, and industry peers especially, is cowardly and complicit. Media and Industry brothers and sisters willingly shielding and enabling 'bad behavior' severely diminishes the integrity of the entire restaurant community and beyond.

Unknown said...

The legal issue is well at play with Scelfo, his main investor and family members are high-powered New York attorneys. If you want a rap sheet on this guy, I have one that dates back to 2010, when the ownership of the group he worked for did advocate for me and others. His behavior has been allowed by the public for some Unknown reason since he berates customers and staff alike. I guess everyone is desperate enough to be passive.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks, and I would definitely be interested in seeing such information.

Sue said...

I agree completely, Richard, and also think the information should be made available. If true, it should be called out.
Susan Holaday, foodserviceeast.coom

Sue said...

I don't know if food media are "ignoring" or simply afraid to step into a potential quagmire. Unacceptable behavior should be called out, definitely.

Susan Holaday,