The latest issue of Maisonneuve, the Montreal quarterly that provides "a diverse range of commentary across the arts, sciences, daily and social life", features a provocative article about sexual abuse in high-end restaurants.
"Amidst the Smoke and Steam" by Graeme Bayliss begins with the lede: Men hugely outnumber women in the kitchens of high-end restaurants and the imbalance is a recipe for abuse.
Undoubtedly, the article tackles a matter of grave concern. The thrust of Bayliss' 1,786-word piece, however, is the trials of one anonymous female cook, Alice Carroll (see the allegory), who works in the "purgatorial kitchen" of one high-end restaurant in what, we can only assume, is Toronto. Or somewhere in Ontario.
Make no mistake. What Carroll endures is, in a word, criminal.
Carroll is sexually harassed nearly every shift. "I'm the blow-up doll of the office and I hate it," she says. Sometimes, coworkers make crude comments, like a sous-chef who asked her when she last had sex, and then propositioned her: "I could sling you one if you want," he said, "between
friends." And sometimes the abuse is physical, as when that same sous-chef knelt down beside her, ostensibly to reach for an ingredient, and quickly ran his hands up her thigh.
And yet Bayliss' article falls short as a vivid, investigative exposé or thinkpiece. Carroll's anecdotal tale is left to carry the burden of the narrative. The article is largely bereft of other personal accounts of abuse and quotes from eminent industry experts and veterans.
Stalwart Toronto chef Donna Dooher gets a small paragraph of her own but Bayliss disregards other vital female voices from across Canada - and male ones too. Moreover, the fact that the abuse that takes place in restaurant kitchens is not just sexual in nature - and not only male on female - gets short shrift.
A Montreal angle from a mag with headquarters in La Petite-Patrie (and with city forefather Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve as a namesake, no less) is also grievously absent.
Bottom line: in the wake of the recent Time 'Gods of Food' controversy, "Amidst the Smoke and Steam" feels like a missed opportunity.
· Amidst the Smoke and Steam [Maisonneuve]