At the Hot Bread Kitchen Conference, Ideas for a Better Restaurant World

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“Let’s get real,” Hot Bread Kitchen CEO Shaolee Sen told a room of people who had gathered to hear her welcome address for the organization’s first-ever Kitchen Conference. “You can’t just climb to the top because you want to or you work really hard.”

The Hot Bread Kitchen Conference took place in Brooklyn on November 4, 2019, bringing together entry-level cooks, executive chefs, food entrepreneurs, and various stakeholders within and outside of the restaurant community. After ten years of providing training and career opportunities to economically empower women in the food industry, Hot Bread Kitchen sought to broaden the dialogue on how to build better workplaces for all. Sen’s opening remarks laid out a number of issues facing the food and restaurant industry — including diversity, equity, and inclusion — that would be tackled in the day’s various conversations with panelists like Kerry Brodie of Emma’s Torch, Commissioner Bitta Mostofi of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and chef Nicole Ponseca of Maharlika and Jeepney. Sen sent the attendees off into the event with a specific question: “How can you help and get involved in the conversation?”

Below, some of the answers proposed in panels ranging in title from “The Changing World of Work and Workers in Food Service” to “Becoming a Better Ally to Women and People of Color.” To note, some of these quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

On Leadership and Management:

“My number one motivation in being a restaurant owner is that I’m employing people that look like me, people that are not getting jobs anywhere else. And it shocks me when I hear that they can’t get a job at one of my peers’ restaurants and I hire them and they do a great job. That’s always been my motivation.” — Eater Young Gun JJ Johnson (‘14), chef/owner of Field Trip

“Everybody’s going through something different and they walk into work with a whole lot of baggage sometimes. Making that be okay is a really important thing in recognizing the humanity of their situation, and maybe showing them how it’s possible to do a job when that might be the least important part of their day. I think being forgiving while guiding them and making them feel like it’s possible to do a good job and be successful regardless of what’s going on is key.” — Cheetie Kumar, chef/owner of Garland

“You have to have an individualistic approach. I can’t stand when a manager says to me, ‘I’m not treating you this way because you’re a woman or because you’re Black. I don’t see gender. I don’t see race.’ That’s bullshit. You should see gender and you should see race. You should see that each team member that you work with is an individual, and they have an individual way that would be effective to communicate with them. If I know a little bit more about someone’s background, I feel like I can talk to them better and know how to reach them as an individual.” — Adrienne Cheatham, chef of Sunday Best

“When I was an hourly employee, I think there was this idea that if I just work hard then someone’s going to notice and promote me. I think learning to be an advocate for yourself is one of the most challenging things when you aren’t in management yet or aren’t supervising people.” — Kim DiPalo, chief operating officer of Drive Change

“Too often we say, ‘Well, the business can’t,’ and so we don’t provide a solution to the worker. I think most of us just can’t afford to not be paid for three weeks of work because we’re ill. Most of us can’t afford to pay for all of our medicine out of pocket and not have health insurance. Just saying the business can’t afford it and the workers should go without is not a solution. We have to stop trading off business success and worker success, and we need to figure out what are the systems in which businesses and workers succeed together. And if businesses can’t do it, how do we think about a more shared societal answer?” — Maureen Conway, vice president for policy programs at the Aspen Institute

A wall covered in post-it notes with statements like “trust” and “empathetic.”
Responses to the question “What are the qualities of a good inclusive leader?”
Wini Lao Photography

On Allyship:

“An example of allyship is folks who have a voice in the room who have recognized when my voice is being silenced. It’s knowing when to speak up, even with the individual or individuals aren’t in the room.” — Carol Crocker Lewis, global director, diversity and inclusion for Food+ by Compass

“Allyship is not something that’s self-identified — it’s not about you. It’s about the community or person that you are helping to lift, which is why it’s kind of hard to define allyship because it’s ever-changing.” — Perla Veras, talent manager for Union Square Hospitality Group

“Everyone needs an advocate, but when we’re talking about the work that we’re doing, the people who are oppressed the most need allyship the most.” — Nicole A. Taylor, executive food editor of Thrillist

“Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is really crucial. A lot of people confuse comfort and safety. If we can all understand that the food industry is not equitable, unjust, and doing harm to people—if that’s our understanding, then if you are comfortable in your work, it’s because you are fitting within the status quo. You’re not challenging things. If you’re not in that space of discomfort, you’re not doing the real work.” — S. Leigh Thompson, diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant

On How to Make Change:

“Sometimes within industries, people can get stuck in the way things have always been. So if we want to think about how do we make change, we need to expand our imagination about what change could be.” — Maureen Conway, vice president for policy programs at the Aspen Institute

“Wherever I go, and whichever level I operate at, my thought is how do I make a difference where I am. Bloom where you’re planted. You may never get to be the executive director or the president, but you can make such a difference just where you’re planted in how you interact with others and how you share your wisdom with others.” — Jacqueline Ebanks, executive director of the NYC Commission on Gender Equity

On What Still Needs to Be Done in the Food and Restaurant World:

“Diversity and inclusion is a way of saying everybody counts, everybody has their own authority, their own knowledge, their own authenticity. Authority and inclusion go together—if we think someone is de-authorized we exclude them. I think diversity and inclusion needs way more depth of conversation and way more dismantling of the very structures that make it be an issue. It can’t be a fad.” — Ana Oliveira, president and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation

“It’s going to take a lot of effort, people, collaboration, cooperation, believability, and, finally, hope to make that push and change. There’s lots to do in this space.” — Luzerne McAllister, global diversity and engagement for Pepsico and founder of Rolodex Global

Aaron Hutcherson is a writer, editor, recipe developer, and blogger behind The Hungry Hutch.