One of our goals for Quvé and The Q is to elevate interesting, thoughtful voices.
With that in mind, we wanted to start this In Conversation With series to showcase the unique views of those in our #Quniverse. We hope you like it!
In Conversation with Adrian Law, Part 2
In this second part of our interview, I asked Adrian for his candid observations on working as a chef in Europe and Canada.
In our view, the restaurant world tends to form a heavy veil over the issues of systemic racism, toxic masculinity and sexual misconduct, all too often under the guise of "service with a smile".
We love our hospitality partners; that said, we also seek truth in all our dealings and we'll continue to lift the curtain to reveal raw intel here at The Q whenever we can.
Here's Adrian's take on back-of-house (BOH) life as he knew it, unedited!
Plus: bonus images of some of Adrian's recent cooking at the end - looks like he's still got it!
Quvé: What were your impressions of BOH kitchen culture when you were in the UK and at TopTable? One theme that is often discussed seems to be the “bro culture” of BOH as well as fierce competitiveness / hostility / machismo…. Did you ever encounter that vibe when you were working your way up in the kitchen, and how did you deal with it?
Adrian: If you've ever read Kitchen Confidential, you'll know that kitchen life in the 70s, 80s, 90[s], and early 2000s was sort of the pirate-like, under-culture, drug-fueled, anti-establishment BOH of misfits.
With the popularity of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay in those decades, a lot of young chefs mimicked their aggressiveness but never balanced it with the proper kindness/charisma/charm that Marco and Gordon had.
So it definitely turned out into a cut-throat dog-eat-dog world and I definitely saw that in the UK especially because all of the senior chefs were under 30 and ambitious.
I also saw a ton of open racism against French Blacks working as porters and pot-washers, which was completely excepted [sic: accepted]. I knew that was what it was going to be like and I was ready for it before going over there and I was also ready for the 18 hours straight days at the top restaurants, but still shocked when you experience it in real life.
I'm a very adaptable person, so I use personality mirroring a lot to get me through uncomfortable situations ie. match strong with strong and soft with soft.
Strangely enough (or not so strange), I've also seen a lot of women - very stereotypical physically small but very mentally strong, organized women - who thrived in those environments.
BOH at Top Table was a pretty good vibe, although, I'll admit when I first returned back to Canada from the UK, junior chefs probably thought I was too aggressive, so I learned to tone it down.
And I was also part of the senior management team so I helped create a culture that was not a "bro"/testosterone-fueled/hostile culture but one that balanced personal drive with teamwork and one that valued, developed, and inspired young chefs. I hope I was successful. I saw very little of that at the top UK restaurants that I worked/staged in -- just bad luck I guess!
I don't really know what BOH is like now since I've been out of the chef gig for over 10 years now. I'm sure the work environment is much softer now since you can't treat people the old-way like they used to, but I'm also proud of be part of the "OG", old-school kitchen crew that knew how to tough it out, work with a bit of a snarl and a smile at the same time :)
I'll always cherish my time in the kitchen. Old or bad experiences, they're all good memories now. Which is how I think people should look at the world.