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Top chefs swear by no-swear policy

Whether it’s hurling insults or throwing punches, hot tempers in the workplace have been widely reported in the media of late, with Jeremy Clarkson being the latest public figure held to account for his volatile behaviour. Following the BCAC’s announcement this week that the Government has finally agreed to legislate against aggressive behaviour in the culinary industry, it seems that society is finally catching on to the idea of decent workplace relations in all industries – even the creative ones . . .

Founded by the BCAC 9 years ago, the primary aim of Fair Etiquette in Chefs’ Kitchens is to temper use of derogatory language and violence within the catering industry. Initially a voluntary scheme, 2015 sees Fair Etiquette finally becoming legislation – and it has the support of a growing number of influential chefs. Jeff Galvin, one of the culinary minds behind the much loved Bistrot de Luxe, is surprised that it’s taken this long for something official to be put in place; ‘there seems to be some sort of comical stereotype of an aggressive chef and that makes it OK, even if the reality is much, much worse than the stereotype’.

Ask almost any chef and they will have experience of verbal abuse – or worse – during their career. While he himself has managed to come through the other side, Jeff Galvin notes with regret the sheer number of young chefs who don’t make it through training, dropping out of the industry with broken spirits, if not broken bones. ‘You can tell by the eyes, I think; when the light has gone out in the eyes of these young boys . . . it’s desperately sad’. A spell cooking in the South of France ‘in a kitchen completely lacking any kind of humanity’ proved a turning point for him, and upon his return he began to research ways of improving the environment of his own kitchens, eventually signing up to the Fair Etiquette scheme. So far, it has been a real hit, with productivity and staff retention rates swelling in an almost unprecedented fashion.

Chris Galvin, the other chef behind Bistrot de Luxe, is in full support of his brother, although admits to finding a little irony in the situation. ‘I agree completely that this sort of legislation needs to be in place, but I can remember Jeff having a proper foul mouth when he was a boy...’ he smiled.

‘Our grandma used to hit him on the backs of the knees with a wooden spoon if she caught him cursing. I suggested we employ a similar system in our kitchen, but he pointed out that physical abuse was also banned.’ he added.

The Galvin brothers are not the only notable proponents of the Fair Etiquette policy. Chocolatier Paul A Young is a recent – and admittedly fledgling – convert, while fusion king Peter Gordon has often spoken out about the benefits of putting a little more zen in the kitchen of the Providores, with group prayer and meditation a key part of the morning routine. While he dismissed rumours of mid-service yoga sessions (they always had seemed too good to be true), he did reveal some of the secrets of his playlist, for any of us looking to recreate the same sense of culinary calm at home; ‘At first we played stuff like Enya, which seemed to work, but then we noticed that it had a kind of polarising effect – some people actually become more aggressive than they had been before. The last thing we wanted! We’ve cracked it now, someone brought in some Alice Coltrane and that’s it - the whole kitchen mellowed right out.’

Whether or not it will be embraced as enthusiastically across the entire catering industry remains to be seen at this stage, but in the meantime it seems that – for the scheme’s existing advocates, at least – the results speak for themselves. With government legislation enforcing etiquette standards set to become fully established by the end of the month, kitchens across Britain are preparing for the change.

We had many of you joining in the #FairEtiquette debate, but, despite the stellar acting talents of Chris & Jeff Galvin, Peter Gordon and Paul A Young, the majority of you were onto our April Fools... Thanks to everyone who took part, and may the Fair Etiquette movement live on in the hearts and mouths of people across the nation!

 
 

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

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Top chefs swear by no-swear policy

 
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