Anthony Bourdain Calls Out Toxic Kitchen Culture in Speech to Culinary School Grads
Anthony Bourdain gave the commencement speech at the Culinary Institute of America graduation ceremony last night. Bourdain, who graduated from the institute in 1978, gave his remarks before receiving an honorary doctorate from the cooking school’s president, Tim Ryan, who called Bourdain an “industry icon.”
In his remarks to the newly minted class, Bourdain invoked a refrain that has become common when he speaks in public these days. He starts off gently, reminding the future chefs that they are “essentially in the business of nurturing” and—never one to miss a chance to be self-deprecating—quips that he spent 30 “not particularly distinguished years” in the industry. However, he quickly changes the topic to the work that made him famous, Kitchen Confidential. Repeating a line he’s mentioned before on Late Night with Seth Meyers—he says that he “wrote [the] book intending to entertain a few line cooks,” but that it became “a meathead bible.”
“It has been dismissed many times by women in this industry and rightly so as the bro bible,” he adds. “If there’s a harasser in the kitchen who’s a jerk at work, chances are he’s got my book at his station, and I am going to have to live with that.”
Here, Bourdain’s speech turns serious. He calls the way kitchens often operate as an “abusive system,” where “hazing and pushing and pressure” are commonplace.
“This is why so many people in our industry are fucked up,” he says, to laughter and cheering from the audience.
This system, Bourdain insists, can’t last.
“The quality of life has to, has to, improve,” he says “As chefs, as leaders, as employers, we are going to have to address this in a serious way.”
Bourdain then shifts his focus “especially to the men in the room,” by asking them to recognize that “giant empires vaporize overnight because of really hideous behavior from a few people,” a thinly veiled reference the recent slew of sexual harassment allegations against former leaders in the industry like Ken Friedman and Mario Batali, who has since stepped down from his businesses.
Finally, Bourdain calls on the students and all cooks to “account for ourselves,” by asking, “What kind of a place do we want to work in? What kind of behavior will we accept in our presence?” He tells them—likely speaking from his own experience—that they may look back in years and think, “I saw a lot of ugly behavior and I did nothing.”
“Don’t be that person,” he says, finishing the speech with a call to action for this new generation of cooks to enter the industry and fight to change its seemingly toxic culture.