Eatdrink #80 November/December 2019 - The Holiday Issue

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The LOCAL food and drink magazine serving London, Stratford & Southwestern Ontario since 2007

20 | November/December 2019

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with farmers and suppliers before conceptualizing Grace.

The staffing model challenges the traditional roles of the

front and back-of-house, with the cooks often serving and

engaging with tables. It is an open kitchen in the most real

sense, approachable and transparent. Murphy knows that

it is fiscally responsible to make an investment in training

workers properly about the various positions within the

restaurant. “We recognized in the beginning that we were

going to have a high labour cost. We pay our employees a

living wage. We are trying to make the best of the fact that

the capitalist systems — paying workers less than a living

wage — in the restaurant business are broken. We want the

staff fully invested in the restaurant, so we have adopted a

co-op model with no upper management salaries.”

This type of innovation is so unusual and forwardthinking

that it made headlines when the owners of Emma’s

Country Kitchen on St. Clair Avenue West in Toronto

proclaimed they would add a non-compulsory three percent

surcharge on guest checks so full-time workers could have

health benefits. Some patrons complained, other patrons

and colleagues in the industry commended the move. There

is a debate in the restaurant community about whether

a surcharge is too contentious and whether it is the most

sensible way to underwrite enhanced working conditions for

restaurant employees. Some restaurants introducing health

benefits for workers are sidestepping the surcharge and

choosing instead to raise prices.

Changing the patriarchal kitchen hierarchy and the

dismantling of oppressive constructs are topics Murphy and

I have discussed on several occasions. Historically there has

been wage inequality and institutionalized segregation by

gender and race in the restaurant business. There remains

a profound connection between sexism and homophobia in

the restaurant kitchen culture. Everyone is entitled to equal

protection in the workplace. “The traditional hospitality

industry is unfriendly to women, especially in the back of

the house. We have known this for years — the long hours,

the macho aggression, the harassment present in many

kitchens. The point is that it’s not just women that suffer from

these issues. Men don’t thrive in this environment, either.

I have worked with men that have had problems balancing

work and life because of the late nights, the stress, and the

physical labour,” says Murphy wistfully. “Many men have been

harassed, felt bullied and intimidated in a toxic atmosphere

which allows only a narrow range of personalities to succeed.

In the ideal kitchen, and I like to think we model our kitchen

after that ideal, everyone feels supported, listened to and

respected. I would even go so far as to say, utterly rebellious to

the traditional chef mentality, that restaurants should be more

accommodating to the personal lives of their staff. The kitchen

Top: Soft boiled egg, brioche toast soldiers, duxelles, beet mayo, radishes,

beer powder & celery root.

Middle: Lake Erie pickerel, wild rice, black lentils & red cabbage consomme.

Bottom: Maitake mushroom, Swiss chard rondelles, walnut & pickled

celery.

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