Toronto

Trendsetting restaurateur aims to end patriarchy in Toronto restaurants

Jen Agg changed Toronto's restaurant scene with her trendsetting west end charcuterie spot The Black Hoof in 2008. Now she's aiming to change it again by making a firm and public stand against sexual harassment in the service industry.

'I'm just tired of it,' says Jen Agg, owner of The Black Hoof

Jen Agg of the Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar and Rhum Corner, is mounting a fight against what she calls patriarchy in the restaurant business. (Black Hoof)

Jen Agg changed Toronto's restaurant scene with her trendsetting west end charcuterie spot The Black Hoof in 2008. Now she's aiming to change it again by making a firm and public stand against sexual harassment in the service industry.

Agg is organizing a conference called Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time.

The conference is a reaction to an application filed in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by local cook Kate Burham for alleged sexual harassment in the kitchen at Weslodge Saloon, a restaurant on King Street West.

You either need to conform and be like one of the guys .. .or you have to shut up, keep your head down and just stay out of it.- Jen Agg

The allegations have been denied by the accused and have not been proven in any tribunal or court.

Agg heard the allegations and thought they sounded all too familiar.

"I'm just tired of it," she said.

Agg, who is currently penning a memoir entitled I Hear She's a Real Bitch, said she's faced similar harassment in restaurants. She believes this is the moment to stand up to it.

'We lose women'

"The silence of the restaurant leadership of Toronto regarding harassment in kitchens continues to appall me," she said.

Harassment veers from subtle sexism to unwanted touching, she told host Matt Galloway on CBC's Metro Morning.

She described the situation for women in kitchens as unacceptable.

"You either need to conform and be like one of the guys .. .or you have to shut up, keep your head down and just stay out of it," she said. "Or you get out. And that's what a lot of women in kitchens do. They don't stay. And we lose women. And therefore these environments continue to be this sort of cyclical thing."

She describes a male-dominated work environment where many staff in popular restaurants are earning low wages because they are excited to be working and learning under prestigious chefs. That creates a vulnerability among staff — particularly women.

She said one of the marquee speakers at her conference will be Hugh Acheson, a noted Canadian chef who has appeared as a judge on the show Top Chef. She believes inviting a white, male chef will help bring others on board in the fight for equality in Toronto's culinary scene.

The conference, which she calls a "major first step," is slated for this fall.

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