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Kitchen Nightmares

Posted on: June 28th, 2020 by Taryn Jeffries No Comments

The last few months have been an experience. For my fellow empaths, you’ll know that familiar heavy feeling. I’ve taken the last few months to listen, educate myself and follow my heart to the next steps. I’ve been quiet, taking it all in and trying to determine my place in my community as an individual and as it relates to Phoenix Bites. This past week I came across a post on my Facebook feed and as I dove into the 100’s and 100’s of comments, I was gobsmacked. 

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*TW: ABUSE IN THE WORK PLACE* • • • • An old boss contacted me two days ago so I redownloaded Tumblr to see if I had posts on there I could refer back to with the abuse I endured (psychological, emotional, monetary) but all I wrote about were the good days. My old roommate though, she has a crack in her dresser from where I would put my head and cry about work everyday. My mom heard me out throughout this experience and hell, even my brother put up with some of his bullshit. The first photo was from my first glimmer of hope of leaving. I took this right before an interview and ended up being able to start the next week after I walked out of that job. My old boss wants to "extend an olive branch" and repay me the money owed. But there's little proof and my word since he made me clock out and keep working if I wanted to keep my job. He would adjust my time sheets to the hours I was scheduled and not what I actually worked. He threatened me repeatedly, telling me he would ruin my name and reputation so I would never be able to work in the industry in Phoenix, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, or Scottsdale. If you worked for Jeff Kraus in the last 7-8 years and experienced the same abuse, but specifically wage theft, and don't have much or any proof, but willing to speak up, I want us all to get what is owed to us and some sort of justice. I also know a lot of people have *feelings* about this. They think he's a pillar of getting Tempe "elevated dining". I have been told that calling out a chef isn't a good look on me by someone WHO SAW AND EXPERIENCED this with me. I know after I left, some coworkers ended up walking out and moving to another state to be able to get away and get therapy because of the harm he's caused. All of these photos were from when I worked for him. I don't look sad or unhappy or seem like I'm going through something. But I was donating plasma to help cover my bills because my checks were $400 every two weeks, because my hours weren't actually accounted for. This post is to ask people who have had their wages stolen from them by Jeff to speak up. We're stronger in numbers. If you don't feel comfortable commenting on this post, please DM me.

A post shared by chelsea johnston-dillier (@seearae) on

**I asked for and received permission from Chelsea to publish her original post**

I went through a range of emotions while reading story after story. The most resounding of which was denial. I’ve shared meals with this individual. Introduced my children to his food, encouraged others to patronize his business, personally and through Phoenix Bites. I have rejoiced in his wins but was blind to his shortcomings. 

I sat with the information for a day, to see what else came from it. I went back to the post a few times to read the ever growing comments (at last glance there were over 500 comments from an array of people in the food community co-signing what the original poster bravely shared.) I knew then that I needed to speak up. 

But why? Why is it my place to say anything? For the last 10 years Phoenix Bites has taken a pretty hard stance on supporting local businesses and the food community. Spreading only positivity. Why would I change course after not having really participated for a time (I’ve been on a bit of a mental break recently)? When I got deep into my feelings I realized that supporting the local food community means ALL of it. Not just the chefs and not just the restaurant name. Often the people that bring your meal to your table, the ones that are creating your cocktails and those behind the kitchen doors are equally responsible and invested in the success and experience of the restaurant. 

I have also learned in our current social climate that silence is malignant. We constantly hear the trope, see something, say something. My not being privileged to what Chelsea and so many others spoke out about from their collective experience doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that all of that pain isn’t real. Because someone wasn’t cruel to me, or you for that matter, doesn’t negate their experience. 

We live in a world where watching Gordon Ramsey on shows like Hell’s Kitchen creates an idea that chefs berating their kitchen staff is the norm. It leads to an idea that is just how life in the kitchen is. We watch and laugh, share memes of his most used insults and don’t question why this is considered entertainment. We read tomes like Kitchen Confidential and read of the self-proclaimed abuse put on staff by the leader of the kitchen as if it is okay. It isn’t, no matter the talent behind the human inflicting it. It isn’t okay. 

Many chefs will tell you that aggression is the only way to coax consistent production from their line cooks. Making great food takes extraordinary discipline but a chef’s quest for purity behind the line can often turn sadistic. Long nights in a blazing hot kitchen with a printer that never stops spitting out orders can transform gentle souls into rabid animals. Voices get raised, toes stepped on. The first-aid kit in the kitchen doesn’t treat hurt feelings.

Adam Reiner, Food & Wine

I’m not here to “cancel” anyone, rather to bring to light the not so well kept secret that the kitchen of your favorite restaurants are not filled with “good vibes only.” They can be stainless steel shrouded spaces of anxiety, abuse and insecurity. The cause of which can be varied; alcoholism, drug abuse, mental illness, poor leadership or misguided well-meaning words. 

I’m not a doctor or psychiatrist and am certainly not in the business of diagnosing anyone. I am, however, an individual passionate about our food community and a potential means to amplify voices that have felt unheard for such a long time. Mental and physical abuse in the workplace is not okay. 

These instances are not limited to this one chef, this one restaurant. A quick google search will show you that it’s rampant, across the country. There are Netflix specials and articles dedicated to the topic. 

The next move is yours, Chefs and restaurant leaders. Where do we go from here? How do we fix these issues in the kitchen, from the front of the house to back of house to ensure that your employees are happy, healthy and well treated?

Chef Kraus issued an apology that was quickly deleted, but not before several former employees commented and then were later blocked. All of us have made choices that we have regretted, those which are deserving of forgiveness. A heartfelt apology is great, however it will remain hollow until things change. Actions, behaviors and the status quo. 

The real question is, who besides former employees are brave enough to start to create that change?

Your staff matters. How they feel about you and how they feel about themselves in your presence matters. It matters to me, it matters to them and its time to start making it matter to you.

About the Author - Taryn Jeffries

Editor and Chief Eating Officer of PhoenixBites, 2017 Food Writer of the Year (Arizona Culinary Hall of Fame) Taryn grew up in a small town in Illinois with a doting Grandmother who taught her the way around a kitchen and that food is representative of love. Her current quest is to find the love in local dishes and the chefs behind them. In addition to running all things PhoenixBites, Taryn is also a freelance writer, sharing her insight on the best dishes and where to get them each and every month.

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