'Change needs to happen from the top and trickle down, that's the only way anything is going to happen'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Last week, the head chef at Bread by Bike in London's Kentish Town posted a tirade on his Instagram page denouncing the actions of chef Daniel Humm for failing to uphold sustainability principles at his London outpost, Michelin-starred Davies & Brook

He pointed his accusations at award-winning chefs for failing to do more to reduce waste, plastic use, and generally failing to implement sustainable practices. All this despite making what he calls "a big sing and dance" about doing so in the public eye. 

He went on to highlight the poor working conditions in kitchens, which he experienced first hand, and the abusive behaviours being discussed at great lengths in recent weeks, first on social media, and now in the press.

We spoke to Ethan about why he posted what he posted - and what he believes the industry needs to come out of its current reckoning, to emerge a better place than before.

Having held positions at Fera at Claridge’s, then Davies & Brook, before leaving the world of hotels after suffering from poor mental health, he is among those calling for reform in what he calls 'the blue tick club.'

"I wasn't going to call anyone out,” he explained. “I was going to write, 'a prevalent three Michelin-star' but I realised there was no point in me doing that, because all it's going to be is like story time, it's not going to do anything or make anyone talk about anything differently." 


A post shared by Ethan Pack (@thatethanpack)



On the implementation of environmentally-sound practices, he said, "a lot of places are going in the right direction already, but there's a lot of misinformation. All the [Michelin] Green Stars that have been handed out in the past year are a fantastic step in the right direction, but it's misinformed." 

While commending Daniel Humm's recent decision to change the menu at three Michelin star New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park to be exclusively plant-based, he felt it necessary to call it out as being little more than "a fantastic marketing idea."

"If you actually care about going plant-based you would do it everywhere, and if you care about the environment you wouldn't be cooking in vacpac bags and throwing away half of your mise en place at the end of the night."

Clarifying that he has nothing against the kitchen environment or the chefs working at Davies & Brook, he said, "I just think the only way anything will happen is if you call people out. You can't just make a broad statement, and say 'this is happening somewhere.'" 

Just like there are plenty of kitchens where working conditions are excellent, "there are loads of Michelin-starred and high-end restaurants that are doing absolutely fantastic things, but they're not always the places that are making a big song and dance about it." 

Abuse and bullying

What is the purpose of naming people for perpetuating bad practices in their establishments? In Ethan's opinion, the need to denounce bad practices in name will lead to a necessary shake-up, and extends to abusive behaviours, too.

"It's such a difficult thing to tell people how to do it, because they just need to do it of their own accord,” but at the moment, he said, "everyone is too scared to say anything, all of these important people. We just need one person with a big following to really say something. Just to recognise that they're in the wrong."

"When someone steps forward, they are probably going to get a rainfall of s**t," he acknowledged, "but somebody just needs to be really blunt about it. To be like, 'this is what the industry was and still is, I apologise for it.'"

From there, he believes, restaurants will be in a position to implement new policies and safeguarding measures.

"At the moment, it looks like people are cowering behind closed doors, which is probably what they're doing. People are just scared that if they say something, they're opening themselves up to a world of pain. But the longer they stay silent, the worse it's going to get, the more it's going to brew and brew and eventually it's going to explode and it's going to be an absolute s**tshow.

"Even the people that aren't supporting or producing toxic environments but that aren't speaking up, there is an air of 'maybe they are doing something wrong,' because if people don't speak up it's because they think that if they do, all of the s**t that they've done in the past is going to be dropped on them." 

Conceding that many are stuck in a difficult situation, where speaking out means threatening the businesses on which people’s livelihoods depend, he said, nonetheless, “In my opinion, if you're a p***k, you shouldn't have a business.

"If you're running a toxic, manipulative business, you don't deserve to have it, even if you're the best chef in the world."

Should the new generation of chefs in the industry be the ones to speak up about poor practices?

Ethan suggested that now is an important time for people lower down the pecking order to contribute to reforming the industry.

"Chefs at the bottom of the hierarchy need to be able to speak out to chefs who are being d**ks. The only way to inspire change is to do something yourself. Commis chefs, demi chefs, you need to not be scared to speak out to your senior team. I know it can be a very frightening thing when you're working in environments like that, but realistically, especially right now, you can get a job anywhere."

"To commis chefs, to demi-chefs anywhere, you could step into a two-star today and get a job.

Not attempting to reform the industry at the moment, he said, "is very backwards, because people should be wanting to keep their staff.

"Head chefs and execs at the moment are treating their staff worse than they should be, because they're scared to let them go, so they're scaremongering. But that's not the way forward, the way forward is to offer them good pay and nice hours instead of getting people to do a double, then breakfast, and another double after that. 

"There are so many illegal practices that people are too scared to speak about because they're worried about losing their job. Well, hear me now: There will be another job out there for you." 

At Bread by Bike, he said, "we're in the kitchen from 7 till 3. You get back home at the end of the day and you think, 'well, I'm still awake, what do I want to think about food? Do I want to sit down and just watch TV, or do I want to sit down and think about what I want to do at work?" Often choosing the latter, he said "It's great to have the headspace to make that decision.'" 

What the Guides should do 

Some, like chef's union Unichef, and chef owner of the Darjeeling Express, Asma Khan, have called for the guides to strip accolades from establishments where instances of bullying and abuse have been confirmed. 

For Ethan, the question comes down to what the companies want to be known for. 

"It depends what they - Michelin, AA, 50 Best - want to be, as part of communities, as part of the industry, and as companies. Do they want to be just about the food, do they want to give three stars to abusive kitchens and toxic environments, or do they care about the workers as well?

"Everyone can have an opinion, and mine would be yeah, get rid of their stars, but it's a call for Michelin to make and any company that gives out accolades to make for themselves." 

Undoubtedly this would entail a level of policing that the guides aren't necessarily equipped to deploy. 

"How are they going to assess that? How would you grade it? It's very difficult, because some will slip under the radar, you can oversee the most abusive kitchen in the world in central London but nobody knows about it because people are too scared to speak out.

"Even TV shows, like Great British Menu, MasterChef - these people need to speak out on it and decide if they are still going to give abusers a platform to get bigger and bigger."

'We just want to make people happy'

Whatever comes of this debate, the chef believes that the one thing that we should all be able to unite around, at this time, is what makes the industry great.

"Whilst there are loads of negative things going on in the industry, I love this industry, I couldn't bring myself to do anything else. The main reason people get into cooking in the first place is that we want to make people happy." 

"It's very rewarding to give someone a plate of food and for them to be really happy with it, and the negatives are just taking away from the fact that so many chefs became chefs just to do this.

"People just need to inspire some change." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 13th July 2021

'Change needs to happen from the top and trickle down, that's the only way anything is going to happen'