Adam Bateman has spoken frankly about the racist abuse he received in professional kitchens as a young chef, during an appearance on Paul Foster's podcast, the Nightcap.
Bateman, group operations and development chef for InterContinental Hotels Group, spoke of the verbal and physical abuse he encountered, while stating that the industry has come a long way in combatting such disgusting behaviour in recent years.
He told The Caterer: "I've always considered hospitality an inclusive industry, one that rewards people for the work they put in regardless of their skin colour or sexuality. But as in most things, there are the extremists."
Speaking to Foster, the chef-patron of Michelin-starred Salt in Stratford-upon-Avon, and podcaster Simon Alexander, Bateman tells of having racist names and insults shouted at him as the only black chef in a kitchen. He also talks of a senior colleague hitting him in response to any perceived indiscretion with a broom handle with a nail through it (used to attach a roll of clingfilm). He says the staff member called the improvised weapon the "coon stick".
The chef said he was forever going home covered in bruises and cuts and states that the abuse occasionally drove him to tears, however the resilience gained from enduring racism throughout his early years saw him continue in his chosen career, which he says he loved despite the abuse.
"I do still experience non-verbal racism to this day, and often see people doing a double take when I meet them for the first time or walk into a room (not expecting a black man)," Bateman added. "We need to highlight that it can be really harmful to use that language or behaviour – you only have to look at the recent England football team who nearly all walked off during a game with fans shouting racist abuse.
"The experiences I had as a young chef affected me massively. I associate myself as black person, even though I have mixed heritage, as that's what I was repeatedly told as a kid. My brother associates himself as white as he was much more accepted at school.
"I developed a tough resilience though; so stepping into Michelin-starred kitchens was perhaps a little easier. And in the present day it takes a lot to stress me out."
Foster, who said he has had to speak to chefs both senior and junior to himself to prevent offensive terms being used in kitchens during his career, added: "It [racist abuse] is not something I've experienced and you're always shocked when you hear something like that. You almost don't believe it – it's that shocking that these things actually happened, and people actually do that.
"You'd hope nowadays it's much harder to get away with than 20-odd years ago. You'd hope things have changed massively since then. But it's something people need to have an eye on – it's not something I witness much anymore but there's still a lot of casual racism about, which is totally unacceptable. The industry leaders, heads of department, owners, general managers – they're the ones that really need to clampdown in their own environments and set the tone."
In conclusion Bateman, added. "I do sometimes wish I had reported the behaviour, but it was a different time then. Now of course it's a little different, which is right."
The Nightcap is available across podcast providers and released every Thursday.
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