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Viewpoint: Sacked Som Saa chef has exposed the casual racism that is rife in hospitality

29 July 2018 by
Viewpoint: Sacked Som Saa chef has exposed the casual racism that is rife in hospitality

When chefs are cooking the food of another country, the very least they can do is respect its traditions and values, says Asma Khan

"Please respect the traditions, faith and customs of the people whose food you are cooking. It's not too hard, just as you learned a recipe and then bask in the glory of bringing ‘exotic' food to Westerners, learn how to respect others. Do not mock. Do not hate."

This was my tweet, written on 13 July. I had to say something as the ugly face of racism raised its head on Twitter again. What made the tweets harder to ignore was that it was not one comment but many over a period of time. Tweets and YouTube videos by a Som Saa chef that insulted Thai, black and Muslim people had been ‘liked' by other chefs and even applauded by white men who cooked Thai food.

Cultural appropriation is a term sometimes used when referring to someone who cooks the food of another culture. This is not something that bothers me, however respect needs to be shown. Even in the Indian food industry, you hear casual Islamaphobic comments by chefs and restaurant owners who happily serve food heavily influenced by and indebted to Islamic culinary influence from the sub-continent.

A depressing aspect of the recent fallout is how little is being said by owners and senior management about racism in the workplace. It seems as if hospitality is still in the dark ages when it comes to racial abuse.

There is a real need for a code of practice in the industry. When every restaurant in London has staff of different nationalities, racial origin and religion, the buck stops with the owner to ensure that everyone working in their restaurant feels valued and safe. Training should be provided to all senior managers on how to encourage respect in the workplace.

Nothing gives anyone the right to claim a 'unique' or 'privileged' sense of humour. When anyone in a position of power and authority makes a bigoted or racist comment, it fans hatred, it legitimises racism and empowers the voices of division.

The normalising of racism is a cancer we cannot allow to eat into our industry. The main aim of all of us in hospitality is to look after and serve amazing food to our guests. It is to spread joy and make a meal memorable for someone. The last few weeks have been a difficult time for some of us. To put it very simply, please do not cook my food if you have not learned to respect me.

Asma Khan is the owner of Darjeeling Express in London's Soho

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