Women Beware an Unwritten Code in the Culinary Arts
Miranda Rosenfelt, 31, was once a culinary cook at Jackie’s restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland. During her time at the restaurant, Rosenfelt claimed one of her direct supervisors began harassing her. Then, one day, seven years ago, she was helping out with inventory when she walked into an isolated room in the basement. Her supervisor was “standing there with his pants on the floor, and his penis in his hands” blocking her from exiting.
Rosenfelt didn’t know what to do. “I felt cornered, and trapped, and scared, and what ended up happening was that he got me to perform oral sex, and it was horrible. And the whole time he was saying things like, ‘Oh, I’ve always wanted to do this.’”
Rosenfelt told a co-worker what happened to her, and that individual went to their boss, Jackie Greenbaum, who claims “I was brought to my knees” by the allegations. “I cried.” She promptly terminated the individual who violated Rosenfelt, and says, “We encouraged her to go to the police and report it.”
She did, but it proved to be a waste of time. “What I was told was that because there was no physical evidence, I wasn’t bruised or injured in any sort of way, that it would be a ‘he said, she said,’ and that it would be long and drawn out and it could be costly for me and that it could take months, possibly years for anything to happen,” Rosenfelt said they told her, so she had no choice but to drop charges.
36-year-old culinary chef, Maya Rotman-Zaid fought back when she was placed in a similar position. She was corned a dozen years ago by a co-worker in a restaurant’s walk-in cooler. “The guy tried to feel me up, and I stuck a fork in his leg,” she said. He “screamed and ran out of there like it never happened. I mean, talk about embarrassing. But he never tried to touch me again.”
It seems that restaurants are stereotypical ‘boys clubs’ and women all across the country who take careers in the culinary arts are being placed in vulnerable positions. It’s no secret that waitresses who flirt with patrons tend to get bigger tips, and many restaurants, such as Hooters, market their menu with the added bonus of being served by an attractive wait staff. Young employees and immigrants seem to have an especially tough time warding off inappropriate behavior.
Maria Vazquez, 52, is a monolingual Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrant mother of six. She took a position as a cook and dishwasher at Art’s Wings and Things in South Los Angeles to support her children. One day in 2005, she says, restaurant owner Arthur Boone cornered her in the back of the warehouse and raped her. “He came downstairs and attacked me. I remember I was defending myself as much as I could,” said Vazquez. “I couldn’t do anything else.”
Because Vazquez needed her job so badly, she kept it and Boone kept taking her into the warehouse. The rapes continued over a period of eight years. Vazquez eventually sued Boone in June 2014 seeking damages based on ten separate allegations. A court awarded her a more than $1 million. But, she has yet to see any of this award. Boone closed his restaurant and she hasn’t been able to collect the money due to her.
Rotman-Zaid said female chefs have learned to “just go with it” when their male co-workers harass them. If you are a “prude and don’t want to be in that situation, you won’t last very long in the restaurant world in general.”
Heather Carlucci, a restaurant consultant who moved up the culinary ranks from years in the kitchen, agrees. “In the beginning, you try to ignore it, or you try to deflect it, to be both funny and defensive, and know how to put them in their place. It’s an enormous amount of energy to do it.”