Getting hot in the kitchen
It’s the stuff of office gossip and tabloid headlines – the illicit workplace romance where the doctor runs off with the nurse, the pilot literally flies off with the cabin attendant, the teacher and the school principal have their own kind of “homework” – and, yes, chefs making off with the hostess are right up there.
Workplace affairs are so common that online dating sites for married people seeking something on-the-side even release stats on the jobs where people are most likely to stray from the marital bed.
Unsurprisingly, the hospitality industry features high up in most of these Top 10’s.
And here’s a fun fact – the men most likely to stray are occupied in trades like plumbers and electricians, making up almost a third of users on one site, while women in medical fields seem to be the most interested in extra-curricular activities.
Around 85% of affairs start in the workplace, and it’s always been rampant in the restaurant industry. Chefs, both male and female, are not known for their great track record in holding relationships together long-term.
It’s not always a gloomy scenario though. Whether they started off as an illicit affair or not, many restaurant workplace romances become successful relationships and even business partnerships, precisely because both parties understand the unique pressures and weird hours of their shared working world, and they both love the business.
It can be a natural progression – the young chef and the front-of-house staffer start dating, get married, and end up running the business together; and a lot of the time, chefs’ second go at a serious relationship is with someone who is in the business.
The high rate of affairs and broken relationships is understandable, and the reasons are similar as for medics, flight crew, financial whizzkids and others known for playing away games – irregular, often unsociable, hours plus high-pressure work that throws people together in stressful situations are prime breeding grounds for growing connections, flirtations, liaisons that break the rules.
It’s hard to make a relationship work when your significant other works normal hours in a normal industry, and your workmates are also your closest friends who you spend most of your working and free time with.
Chefs dating “normals” can be a recipe for disaster – your girlfriend or boyfriend goes out for drinks after work with their mates while you’re in the thick of evening prep; by the time you’re finished and ready for a few post-work drinks, they’re literally finished and ready to go home. They have weekends off, and a weekend away would be nice. except the last weekend-off you had was five years ago.
If you can make it past those hurdles towards marriage and kids, you’ll be forever missing out on holidays, birthdays, your baby’s first step, their winning soccer goal. Your wife’s work colleagues wonder if you really exist – hell, sometimes she even wonders, when most days she only gets to see you around midnight – and by then, you’re growing apart, living separate, very different lives.
And if you you’ve also started up your own restaurant by then, that adds financial pressures into the mix and money problems are notorious for poisoning relationships.
It’s hard too if your partner doesn’t understand, and love, the business like you do. If they don’t “get” the chef’s mania, that eternal striving to achieve perfection on every plate, to do better every day, that drives you to get back in the kitchen day in and day out, sacrificing weekends, holidays, a social and family life.
I’ve written before about how the pressures of a chef’s work and odd hours, the disconnection from family and friends, together with financial pressure, can be extremely isolating and leave one feeling very alone with problems that (you think) no one understands or can help with – that too puts a relationship to the test.
It’s in the nature of the hours we work that chefs end up spending more time, and doing more socialising, with co-workers and other chefs than with their own families. When the pressure cooker of service is done and the kitchen cleaned, you need to let off steam and they’re the only other people still awake.
Either that, or you go home where everyone’s asleep, you wind down on your own, and they’re gone in the morning when you wake up.
Restaurant crew spend so much time together, in and out of work, they form deep bonds, fiercely loyal, forged in that love of the craziness of the food business – a craziness they wouldn’t have any other way.
All of this makes fertile ground for romance to blossom in the kitchen, leaving many a broken relationship or marriage in its wake.
A word of caution – there can be a very fine line between initiating workplace romance and behaving in a way that can be seen as harassment or abuse, especially in high-pressure, creative environments like a restaurant kitchen.
The world of food has rich potential for sexual innuendos that spark flirtation – how many times have you heard a dish described as “sex on a plate” or swopped jokes with the commis chef about how you’d like your cucumber peeled?
The nature of food, plus the stress relief of silliness and laughter in the middle of a busy service, makes it so easy to do, but it’s also far too easy to misread signals and it’s got to be said that the days of flirting and suggestive comments are gone, there’s no place in the kitchen for that any more – just as there’s no place for the chef whose drive for perfection turns into abuse of the staff.
The #MeToo movement might have started in the entertainment industry with Harvey Weinstein, but it’s thrown the spotlight on sexual harassment and cultures of fear and abuse in the restaurant industry too.
In the US alone, at least 13 high-profile chefs have been called out for harassment and abuse and have lost their jobs, restaurant empires, TV shows and celebrity status because of their behaviour.
That cucumber comment can backfire, badly. And rightly so.