Ottawa chef behind Riviera, El Camino admits to sexually harassing women
Matthew Carmichael issues emailed statement to reporters
Ottawa chef and restaurateur Matthew Carmichael has issued a statement admitting to sexually harassing women with inappropriate comments, and says he's handed over the operation of his business.
In the statement bearing his name, issued Wednesday morning from his personal email account to multiple reporters, Carmichael also admits to drug and alcohol addiction.
In a clear state of sobriety I feel its full effect and to the women I have harassed, I apologize.- Matthew Carmichael, chef and restaurateur
He said he completed a 30-day therapy program and is "currently clean."
"I have sexually harassed women with inappropriate comments," the statement reads. "My fiancée ... and I have decided together to speak out about harassment as part of my recovery. I feel this is a crucial step in this process. In a clear state of sobriety I feel its full effect and to the women I have harassed, I apologize.
"I have handed over the operation of my business to the management team who acted immediately upon discovering my addiction. I have no role in the daily operations."
No other details were released. Carmichael and his partner declined to comment further, saying in an email that Carmichael decided to give one interview and had already done so.
Riviera GM resigns, staff 'doing fine,' worker says
Carmichael is connected to the restaurants El Camino, Datsun, Riviera and El Camino 2. Earlier this month, Riviera placed seventh in Air Canada's influential list of the country's top 10 restaurants.
When asked for comment on Carmichael's statement, several staff members at Riviera referred CBC News to Hazem El-Gabalawy — a service specialist at all four restaurants Carmichael is associated with — who sent an emailed statement to CBC News late Wednesday afternoon.
El-Gabalawy confirmed the resignation of Riviera's general manager, Stelios Doussis, but he declined to provide further details, writing that he'll let Doussis speak for himself.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Doussis declined to comment.
We are and have been very proactive in our dealing with the harassment. In general we support [Carmichael] in his recovery...- Hazem El-Gabalawy, service specialist at Riviera, Datsun, El Camino
"People at the restaurant are doing fine," El-Gabalawy wrote in his emailed statement. "We are and have been very proactive in our dealing with the harassment. In general we support [Carmichael] in his recovery and hope that his coming out publicly will make workplaces safer."
York Street Entertainment, Riviera's management company, did not immediately return multiple requests for comment Wednesday.
Former boss says no workers came forward with allegations
Before opening El Camino and the other restaurants, Carmichael worked as a paid consultant for the group of restaurants owned by Caroline Gassolin, including Restaurant e18hteen, Social and Sidedoor.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Gassolin said Carmichael started working for her in 2010 and left in 2013, and that during that time, no employees came forward to her with allegations about Carmichael.
"There were no formal complaints and it was never addressed with me or my management as far as I'm concerned," Gosselin said.
She added that it's important for leaders and managers in the industry to step up and protect young people "coming up" in the industry, and to not tolerate drug use or excessive alcohol use.
"I feel very strongly as a female in this industry that that's something that we really don't tolerate. It's really important that it's a healthy environment, drug-free and alcohol-free, because that's one thing that has always been rampant in the industry, the drinking in the kitchen," Gosselin said.
"I like to say that my establishments — of course people are going to have beers after — but the drug abuse and stuff like that is totally not tolerated for me. ... It just leads to people doing things that they don't feel comfortable doing or putting people in compromising positions."
'Open secret' within industry
Ottawa restaurant manager and sommelier Grayson McDiarmid called Carmichael's revelations an "open secret" within the restaurant industry.
"The open secret that has come out today is something that we've all known about in the restaurant industry," McDiarmid said. "It's frustrating when people keep getting accolades who don't treat people properly. We know there's a lot of great people out there that are treating people well and we want to shine a light on that."
In response to the controversy, McDiarmid and his partner Anne-Marie McDiarmid created a list of restaurants that have committed to providing safe workplaces and to accept resumes from people who may be looking to leave unsafe workplaces.
Restaurants on the list include Oz Kafe, Dish Catering, DiVino Modern Italian, The Pomeroy House, The Moonroom, MēNa, Beckta Dining/Wine Bar, Play Food & Wine, Gezellig, The Hintonburg Public House, Pure Kitchen and Soif Bar À Vin.
'Trying to change the normal'
Grayson McDiarmid said he in no way wants to imply restaurants not on the list are unsafe for female employees.
But he said inappropriate language and behaviour is prevalent in the restaurant industry, and that he has participated in that culture in the past.
"It's very often, well, 'This is what it's like when you work in a restaurant.' And so it's a you deal with it or you leave it kind of thing. 'This is how we talk to women, this is how we joke about sex.' When you add alcohol and late nights to it, there's also that element of it," he said.
"What we're trying to show is that there are restaurants that don't subscribe to that. We're trying to change the normal because the normal was very — it was very bad how women were treated and how sexualized the language was."