A good friend of mine text messaged me this article link about two weeks ago. I’ve actually been messaged this story several times from friends who knew I worked for Charlie. The first time I read this article I wept tears of experiences tucked away in the darkest corners of my mind.
I will be the first to tell you I can validate every single statement and quote mentioned in the article above.
When I was offered a line cook job at one of Charlie’s restaurants, I was beyond ecstatic. Charlie Hallowell had made a name for himself in the Bay Area as a “celebrity chef” and was nicknamed “King of the East Bay.” As the former Executive Chef at Chez Panisse, Charlie was revered as a phenomenal chef, and I was more than humbled to be welcomed into his restaurant family.
Working for Charlie meant you were the best of the best. I was surrounded by chefs who had worked for James Beard Award-winning AND Michelin-starred restaurants—Zuni Café, Oliveto, Quince, Cotogna, Alinea, wd~50, and the aforementioned Alice Waters Berkeley mecca, Chez Panisse, among others.
There I was, a recent Culinary Institute of America graduate, who had worked as an intern and food stylist for the highly regarded, San Francisco Chronicle’s Food & Wine section, an assistant to the executive pastry chef at Pixar Animation Studios and a line cook at Google Headquarters’ Google [X] (cooking for Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin and his team of unannounced top-secret projects)—I felt like I was a rookie entering the majors. In many ways I was.
I had learned early on in my time at Charlie’s restaurants that things wouldn’t be easy. I learned that you had to literally work your ass off—I worked an average of 10-12 hours a day, lifting two-50 pounds of 00 Flour daily, mastering the art of pizza dough-making. Even though I was in the best shape of my life, I constantly felt like an outsider.
I wasn’t initially accepted by the entire crew. Yes, there were a few who were beyond welcoming (the assistant pastry chef was my first friend there, and would later become my best friend, the executive pastry chef became like a big sister to me, and there were many others who I love dearly), but I always knew that no matter how hard I worked, and how hard I tried, I had to work even harder. This sentiment was confirmed to me by two of the three badass female line cooks there (I was the third) who both told me in their own ways that I had to be:
“better than them, smarter than them, faster than them and stronger than them.”
And when they said “them” they meant the guys. We were outnumbered 10-3, but I soon earned enough street cred from those two to garner such advice.
I heeded their advice and worked harder, faster, smarter and stronger, even though my body ached often and I sometimes cried to myself in the hidden corners of the walk-in. I was tired, but I was also hungry. Hungry to show them all, and show myself, that I deserved to be one of them. That I was, one of them.
A few months later, I finally received the recognition that I had so longed for—Charlie, himself, wanting to meet the “new girl” who had mastered his extremely temperamental (and famous) pizza dough recipe that was passed down to me and was tweaked and manipulated to my liking. I had mastered it and made it my own. And my hard work was acknowledged one morning during preshift not only by Charlie himself but by the entire chef team. It was a small victory, but acknowledgement and praise by these men made me feel, for the first time, that I belonged there. That I *am* one of the best. That I had earned my stripes. I was no longer “the new girl”—I was one of them.
That all changed during a company party almost a year later, where the staff of all three of Charlie’s restaurants met under one roof for a night of celebration. I had worked that morning’s service, and shared a shift drink with my co-worker (and best friend) while we shared a pizza, and then walked back to his house to change out of our work clothes. We drank a glass of sparkling wine, ate some more snacks, and headed down to the venue.
There were about 200+ people there. I grabbed a cocktail (that was made by one of the female bartenders who I worked with, and whom I trusted), and had half of another.
And then darkness.
I don’t remember anything past that. The next thing I knew, I was in bed feeling extremely ill. Dizzy. Nauseous. Body aching. It wasn’t a hangover. I had felt hangovers before. This was different. This was far worse. And worse than that was I had no recollection of what had happened the 10 hours prior. How does 10 hours of your life get completely wiped out clean?
I immediately texted my best friend, who responded minutes later saying, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” That next day I learned that my best friend (and his partner who was also at the party) strongly believed that I was roofied. My bestie and I had separated at some point after I began consuming my second cocktail at the party, and after about 45 minutes of separation, he had caught me leaning (and almost completely immobilized), against some of the guys who worked at one of our sister restaurants in a hidden corner of the venue. He immediately rescued me and carried me to his car to take me home. In his mind, and being the best friend he is, knew that in no way that I would’ve blacked out after consuming 3.5 drinks. I had a pretty high alcohol tolerance at the time, had eaten 2.5 full meals and had *never* blacked out after such a low amount of alcohol before.
After learning this, I was completely humiliated, and felt betrayed, embarrassed, violated, and also scared. Someone at that party attempted to violate me. After feeling like I had finally become “one of them”, I then realized that I was not one of them at all.
“It’s a boy’s club”, is a phrase I had been conditioned to accept in culinary school. And at that moment, after working so hard to fight against that old-school adage, I felt defeated.
When word got back to Charlie about the situation (some people who saw me in that condition just assumed I was either high on ecstasy or black-out drunk), Charlie brought me to the back of the restaurant to talk. Granted, I had been working at the restaurant for over a year and the few words we’ve ever exchanged (him waving to me and saying “Hey mama” was the norm) were happening at that moment.
He apologized and said that he was sorry for what had happened to me.
That he knows everyone we work with, and doesn’t believe anyone would do that to me.
That it must’ve been someone else at the party.
That all of my co-workers love me.
That there were “hundreds” of people at the party and it couldn’t possibly be anyone we knew.
Denial denial denial.
I knew then that this half-ass apology was only meant to protect him. To protect his restaurants. To protect his boys.
A predator doesn’t shun the presence of other predators like himself—they stick together like a pack.
Nothing ever happened after that. There was no investigation. No real apology. No accountability. No recourse for the pain I had to endure.
This is the very reason why so many women (and men) are hesitant to come forward with sexual assault, harassment and abuse claims. The fear of being denied, not believed, no recourse.
I hope that, in light of the #metoo and #timesupnow campaigns, that this type of behavior and action in the workplace will change. That women do not have to be fearful to speak up. That a woman’s voice will be heard. That the experiences I have had to endure will one day never happen again.