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"What do I do when I want to cry in the kitchen?"

This is the first article of a series with Countertalk's Ravneet Gill, and her perception of the food industry today.

BY RSVP August 28,2019

When I first started out in the kitchen some of the chefs thought it was funny when I cried. At first, it didn't take a lot to make me well up—I hated confrontation and couldn't deal with intimidation or direct criticism. Whenever I got to that point just before the tears started to flood down my face, I'd feel defeat and fear that I'd be perceived as weak, lesser, incapable. Over the years I built up a bit of resilience and learned how not to cry so easily.

Just recently at one of our screenings of 'The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution', an anonymous chef wrote in asking for advice: 'what do I do when I want to cry in the kitchen'?

From personal experience, I’ve often felt that hospitality bosses deal with anger and aggression better than with tears. But in reality, tears are a far less toxic way of expressing emotion—crying doesn't harm anyone.

We should first and foremost be working towards cultivating positive environments where workers are not made to feel any unnecessarily extreme emotions. And we should be asking ourselves how we can create a safe environment for people to express their emotions, rather than one where they fear being judged for doing so.

Ravneet Gill and Countertalk (Excerpt from The Observer)

Ravneet Gill has only been cooking professionally for six years, but has enough horror stories to fill a book. The kitchen where one man kept asking her out and made her so uncomfortable she had to leave. The time she reported a colleague to one of her bosses for “being disgusting” and the email was forwarded to said colleague. The person who would throw her prep in the bin when she wasn’t there was the same one who would make faces behind her back when she was instructing other chefs. As a woman, not getting promoted in the same way as men. The universal problem of not having breaks. “Kitchens,” says the 27-year-old clearly and deliberately, “are not professional environments.”

After finishing a psychology degree in 2012, Gill began training at Le Cordon Bleu but “could only afford two terms”. Despite a tutor telling her to wear a wedding ring when in employment, “so guys leave you alone”, she was not ready for the level of harassment and isolation she experienced in her some of her jobs as a pastry chef.

She almost quit the industry but a stint at London’s St John showed her that kitchens could be rewarding places, with staff treated fairly and given breaks. “I used to think: ‘I hope there is an organisation that gets set up to highlight that environments should be healthier, and help chefs get to know each other a bit more.’ There’s not really much of a community.”

She decided to build one herself. In March 2018, Gill launched Countertalk. Through the website, she places job advertisements for companies she can vouch for, organises networking supper clubs, and posts video interviews and recipes with fellow chefs. One of her main aims, after making a stand about kitchen environments, was to give exposure to talented chefs who don’t get wider recognition, especially women: “There’s not that many women chef role models, but there are quite a few women chefs.”

As well as working as a consultant chef, Gill organises events where chefs can meet peers and possible mentors. A recent film screening was followed by a Q&A panel with leading London chefs. And because chefs can get stuck in a kitchen section, she’s planned a series of workshops to advance skills in pasta, bread, coffee, ice-cream and pastry.

For Gill, it’s all about trying to bring support to a notoriously antisocial, unsupported profession: “I’m just trying to make hub of people who can see and help each other.” 

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