I asked two people—both poets—to edit this. They have my back.
Here is my lived experience.
It's like a jigsaw. There are other pieces. I had to cut. More to come. Next week or the week after, according to my time and needs.
I've been wearing a "man's uniform" since 1988.
I love how that jacket balloons on me. Look at where the shoulders are.
Hand on the hip. Happy as a clam.
Did you know crossing your arms in front of your chest is a sign of weakness? In body language, it means you have something to protect. Open arms signal strength.
Every time I see a formal photo of Paul Bocuse, I think of that.
Celebrity chef culture. Bro chefs.
I know the whole history.
A thirty-four-year run. Front row seat. In "the best" restaurants.
I've met so many male chefs—and a few chefs (I mean women here)—from North America and Europe.
Men who live the pleasure of liberation look on strong, independent women with admiration.
Feminine authority inspires respect.
Their inner resources are strong—masculinity secure.
Feminine opinion is something to consider.
They look for ways to escape the great privilege bestowed on them at birth. Turn it over to others.
I know men like this. Many are young. They've taught me much.
They were the values of the first chef I worked for. He had self-respect. And a house full of gorgeous women.
The beautiful dreams I had in my heart. What I wanted for myself professionally. I trusted the chef with it. He believed in me.
There were others.
"The people hurling hate and threats at me, their words don't mean that much. Unless they're constituting an actual threat. In which case, they'll be investigated to the full extent of the law. What matters are the words of support."
Zexi Li, Ottawa Resident
I've experienced intimidation over the past few weeks.
The flame went full blast when I called out a Canadian celebrity chef. A man a generation ahead of me in the kitchen. He cast his cook's cap in with a crowd. Whistled for his dog. Wonder if there's a photo of him, arms crossed.
There were spam phone calls throughout two days. An anonymous, menacing account celebrating gun culture appeared in my Instagram feed. “Sinister,” says a friend.
Meanwhile, I'm on deadline. Writing a pretty essay on an agricultural topic. A subject I hope to write about for forever. Pastoral.
I began feeling alone. Turned to community.
Women are always the first on scene.
A man sent me a beautiful photo. Full of hope.
Another sent me these four words:
"You keep doing you."
Intimidation. A foundation ingredient in kitchen culture. It's still out there.
Intimidation. A show of weakness. Not power.
The threat to bodily harm
In the second restaurant I worked in, I was on the dinner shift in garde manger/dessert. In the corner of the kitchen reserved for women.
In the prep area, half-naked paper women looked down from the wall. Restaurant supply and auto body calendars, some Playboy centrefolds. Kitchen decor in Toronto's best French restaurant, 1989.
At some point in my employment, a new line cook turned up.
I was pretty sure he'd been to places I didn't want to know. Had been with clumsy women who walked into doors. Mr. "Peaky Blinders."
He fit right in.
The male cooks made like they didn't see or smell his all-day drinking. Some nights he was sloppy. I suspect there were times he was in a blackout. Late-stage alcoholic. Had an ashtray above his station. Cigarette always burning.
Late one night in a Queen St. alley, after partying at the Beverly Tavern, he grabbed my wrist and started hauling me off. I'll never forget his grip. Like he owned me.
Then a man who worked in front-of-house followed and intervened.
He could see. He came to help.
He broke the spell.
I went to work the next day.
Mr. "Peaky Blinders" in the station beside me. Avoiding eye contact.
You can’t see the predator If you're not the prey.
The threat to professional safety
"Fake news." Out of the mouth of another Canadian celebrity chef. A generation behind me.
Intimidation. To anyone with an opposing opinion. Writing about their world.
Whistled for his dog.
A shudder runs through women journalists. It’s a call to violence. The gun men show up on social media.
Words matter. Wonder if there's a photo of him, arms crossed.
Men who trash the women they fuck
In the workplace
In the bedroom
It's all the same
The damning story
Damns the storyteller
I've been in the game so long.
I'm calling this.
I finally made it. To the bitter fucking end.
It's over for me. The celebrity chef. Bro culture.
I'm looking in your restaurant kitchens for signs of change.
If you've never had a woman on top. You're missing out.
The song is *chefs’ kisses*