Denmark’s gastronomic scene: Kitchen hell in Copenhagen: How hip top chefs exploit their employees

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    The “New Nordic Cuisine” is a role model for the kitchens of this world. Courageous chefs who turned the entire gastro scene upside down. But at what price? The “Financial Times” has now revealed this. About an environment that should long since belong to the past.

    Good sound used to not belong in the kitchen. There was screaming, so loud that the glasses rattled. Humiliated, so much that some broke it. The motto applied: if you can’t stand the heat, you don’t have a place in the kitchen. Bullying and exploitation were the order of the day. Only those with thick skin survived the madness, survived the Gordon Ramsays and the Alfons Schuhbecks of this world. A time long gone?

    As the “Financial Times” describes in a detailed report, the symptom that once overshadowed the gastro scene has not been cured. It has remained a global phenomenon – also in Copenhagen. Also in this showcase scene. Where the world’s best chefs have done what no nation has done before: They launched a hyper-local, eco-conscious food movement that has enriched the entire world.

    The leaders of the movement were two Danish chefs named René Redzepi and Claus Meyer, who opened Noma in 2003. The restaurant only uses ingredients from the Nordic region. A revolution at that time. Copenhagen quickly developed into a food Mecca. Not only for eating, but also for working. Something new started here, something big. The kitchens were open. Sustainable and ecological cooking was a must here. Everyone wanted to cook at Redzepi. Even if that meant not earning any money, not working 37 hours but 70. And under the most adverse conditions. The dream of the new gastronomy, of new thinkers, quickly burst. It’s just now being talked about for the first time.

    abuse in all forms

    Lisa Lind Dunbar has worked in Danish restaurants for 15 years. An Instagram video in which a waiter served champagne in a star restaurant in Copenhagen triggered her, as she tells the “Financial Times”. He had attached a pistol-shaped attachment to the top of a champagne bottle and used it to squirt jets of white, frothy wine into a guest’s mouth, saying “on your knees”. This provoked Dunbar and sparked all the pain she has experienced in the hospitality industry over the past few years. So she started an anonymous call and asked colleagues to report on their experiences. What could happen, she thought to herself? She set off an avalanche. A kind of “Me too” movement. Stories poured in about abuse in all forms: sexism, racism, homophobia, bullying, unsafe working conditions. One person told about a chef who threw his employees’ phones into the fryer. Another about a celebrity sommelier who sexually harassed her. About a chef who kept a gun in his drawer to shoot rats in his restaurant’s elevator. The list could be continued indefinitely. But why are these things only now coming to light?

    As with so many things, the answer is: fear. Dunbar says Copenhagen is small. Everyone knows everyone. Anyone who speaks badly of a chef ends up on a kind of black list. The network is big. Finding work in the same environment then becomes difficult. There is a silent consensus: one is silent. The pride of Copenhagen’s food scene goes above and beyond. Loyalty is law. The chefs and restaurant operators keep appealing to their team that they are family. But what kind of family? In Copenhagen it turns out to be a patriarchal structure, with a father telling his children what to do.

    The problem is the restaurant itself

    The problem is not only the Noma, which interns sometimes did not pay. That exploited employees who were only allowed to pick herbs for three months, although they were promised a holistic experience. The problem is the hospitality industry itself, says Dunbar. A system that relies on poorly paid workers. That shapes a culture of fear and slowly undermines the lives of workers. If the employees cry after the work is done, but the guest and the chef are satisfied, who cares what goes on behind the scenes?

    Dunbar and her push are just the beginning. How good can a 200-euro meal taste if you don’t know exactly how many tears, how much sweat, how much humiliation it took? The aftertaste remains bitter.