KnifeofBrian on sexual harassment and racism in the hospitality industry

The Staff Canteen

Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering owner, Brian Powlett opens up about sexual harassment in the workplace and racism he has had to face.

With recent reports on sexual harassment in the workplace and in government offices making headline news. I thought I’d throw in my two-penneth.

knifeofbrian quote jan 18Although I cannot really claim to be a victim of sexual harassment, I know my work place banter has edged close to the line over my 25 year career. As most chefs, male and female will tell you, we’re not in the school playground anymore. The jokes and banter can be of a level which would make most mortals blush. There is a fine (not really that fine) line between the 1980’s style, Benny Hill comedy moments and the uncomfortable hand on the arse of a politician. Both would be considered inappropriate here in 2018 and rightly so.

Being born in 1974, watching TV through the 80’s has meant that I couldn’t help but be influenced by the misogynistic, sexist comedy of the likes of the Carry On movies and the chat shows of the time. Watch those old interviews now and you’ll realise how much the women were objectified and being treated like second or even third tier citizens. It was a time where the standards of what was acceptable were unchallenged. I mean, TV audiences were still pining for the black and white Minstrels dancing on their TV’s. Some may say this was all harmless jokes and banter, but we now understand that these views are just reinforcing stereotypes of a generation. Anyone who was not white, male and heterosexual was considered fair game. I do wonder future generations will look back at this decade and try to decipher our obsession with celebrity, body shape, smartphones and social media.

All forms of media had, and still has, it’s responsibility. There are few who would break ranks to stand up and acknowledge that there’s a problem which needs addressing. This is why now, in 2018 I can stand here as a 43 year old black male and can say with my hand on my heart that I have been on the receiving end of racism at several points of my life, most weeks, most months, most years. I’m not talking about the hard line, right wing fascism. Although that happens. I’m referring to the casual remarks. The “just jokes” comments. As well as the blatant ignorant comments and assumptions.

What’s this got to do with being a chef? Nothing really. But I was compelled to write this post after I noted the surprise in the eyes of a supplier when they realised I was the head chef. Assuming that my bigger, hairier and white colleague was the guy in charge. Didn’t even consider that I was the guy that had sourced his product and paid for it out of my hard earned cash. To be fair he also overlooked the female I had working with me too. I was far too busy to be offended at the time. The incident just got logged in my subconscious for later. There are people out there who would have taken massive offence at this point and the situation would have ended very differently. The gentleman was a local cattle farmer, from out in the countryside, who had probably only ever read about black people in his 1954 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.

knifeofbrian quote jan 18 2A few weeks later, I was talking with someone who had said they thought they’d seen my wife out running. Now bearing in mind that this chap had never met my wife. He just assumed that the woman was my wife because she was black and running. That was all he had to go on. Because that’s how it works right? My wife does run. She’s white and was 100 miles away with her girl squad that weekend.

Like I said, these incidents are not full on, right wing racism. This is just ignorance, stupidity and naivety. And had the two events not happened so close together I may have not even written this post. I know on both incidents that there was no malice or hurt intended so I would not even think to kick off. That’s just the shit a person of colour has to deal with. It’s a long way from the lynch mobs of yesteryear.

I know I’ve been overlooked for jobs and positions purely because of my colour and a judgement associated with it. Applying for head chef positions, to then be offered a senior sous chef title, with no head chef was a classic. I took great joy in telling that employer to go and **** themselves when they tried to offer me the senior position within a week, realising that I was bloody brilliant (obviously I’m kidding #Bants). I then left.

Equally I have been offered positions just to fill a racial demographic. This was not within the hospitality industry to be fair, but They call it diversity now.

Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian
Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian

So let he/she without sin, cast the first stone. There is so much bad shit going on right now. Every day a new story comes out about a celebrity abusing their power. Taking advantage of those they see as weaker than themselves. Men and women alike can and have been guilty of many bad things in this industry. Black, white, Indian, Asian or whatever. It is now time for the profiling to stop. Assuming that this white, female chef can’t cook Caribbean rice n peas. Stop believing that the Asian chef knows nothing about Classic French cuisine, and that black guy must be the kitchen porter. This is 2018 and the world is getting smaller. We are getting closer to each other and the sooner we can tear down borders and barriers in our micro-worlds the sooner we can all just crack on.

Knife of Brian is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th January 2018

KnifeofBrian on sexual harassment and racism in the hospitality industry