The Current

Women chefs speak out against sexism at work

Anyone who's ever worked a kitchen job can tell you, it's not for the faint of heart. And that can be especially true for women working in what's still a male dominated culinary world. New allegations of sexual harassment by a Toronto cook have us talking about sexism in the professional kitchen.
In an application to Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal, a Toronto cook says she was inappropriately touched and routinely harassed by colleagues at the restaurant Weslodge. Now other women are opening up about their restaurant kitchen experiences. (Facebook)

In terms of sexism, from the subtlest things to the sort of 12-year-old style antics that are so offensive of things like bra unclasping... it's hugely rampant.- Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg. speaking out in the wake of Kate Burnham's allegations of sexual harassment in the kitchen.
Jen Agg of the Black Hoof, Cockatil Bar and Rhum Corner, is mounting a fight against what she calls patriarchy in the restaurant business. (Black Hoof)
There's an old saying that if you can't stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen. And as far as workplaces go, kitchens are notorious pressure cookers.

But there's pressure... and then there's abuse. And that's what one Toronto cook is alleging she experienced at work. 

In an application to Ontario's Human Rights Tribunal, Kate Burnham says she was inappropriately touched and routinely harassed by colleagues at the restaurant Weslodge. Those allegations have not been proven at the tribunal, and the men named in the case are denying them.     

But her story has prompted other women to open up about their restaurant kitchen experiences. To talk about the place of women in an industry some say is bubbling over with sexism.

Kate Burnham was in our Toronto studio.

We've reached out to the three men named in the case.  A lawyer for chef Kanida Chey said his client is "devastated" by what he's calling "unfounded allegations".  A lawyer for sous chef Dan Lidbury said he's received support from former co-workers at Weslodge who quote, "know that the allegations made about him are entirely false".

We have yet to hear back from sous chef Colin Mercer. 

We also reached out to the companies that co-own Weslodge restaurant. ICON Legacy Hospitality and INK Entertainment told us that they do not tolerate any form of workplace harassment. 

In a statement, they said, "Both companies have always had a detailed workplace harassment prevention policy in place, and are committed to providing a safe work environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity."   

The issue of sexism and sexual harassment in professional kitchens is a long-simmering one.

  • Donna Dooher was a chef for 35 years. She's the founder of Mildred's Temple Kitchen in Toronto and the president and CEO of Restaurants Canada. 
  • Joshna Maharaj is the Executive Chef of Ryerson University's Food Services. 
  • Bruce McAdams is an assistant professor at the University of Guelph's School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sarah Grant, Acey Rowe and Vanessa Greco.


After our story aired, we heard from the co-owners of Weslodge restaurant -- Charles Khabouth, CEO of INK Entertainment and Hanif Harji, CEO of Icon Legacy Hospitality. They said they were troubled by the allegations which they call "disturbing and unacceptable".

They have undertaken a review of the restaurant's HR procedures, and say an investigation into the allegations has "revealed that there may have been lack of communication and reporting of the alleged incidents at Weslodge in 2012. This circumstance impeded our ability to affect appropriate remedies, and we regret this." 

The statement goes on to read,  "We have parted ways with all the individuals involved in the allegations throughout various times in 2014 and remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved through mediation with Ms. Burnham."