May 24, 2022

Kenji López-Alt & Eric Ripert speak up: Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, & the Glorification of Verbal Abuse in Toxic Work Environments.

One of the most important lessons I ever learned in business, as a boss, & in life.

One of the best lessons I ever learned in business, as a boss, as a manager—nay, as a human—is that anger is fine, anger is natural, anger is not helped by burying it in shame—but that, too, anger expressed is rarely helpful or constructive. Too easily we fall into “anger = bad” mentality, which merely encourages shame and whitewashing and burying those genuine feelings and concerns beneath the veneer of “not acceptable.” And yet, too, as Redford my dog taught me (I wrote about this recently), anger doesn’t really work.

Now, I got angry yesterday. I expressed it. I felt good about expressing my concerns, but bad about how I expressed them. Anger doesn’t really work. It just creates more anger, too often. “Aggression creates aggression,” as is said in Buddhism.

But some years ago I would erupt in anger somewhat regularly. I was stressed out, and frankly a mediocre boss or manager. I never wanted to be a boss. Like many entrepreneurs who become bosses, victims of their own success (and I have many friends in similar situations), we just wanted to start something great, and work hard at that, and as we succeeded we hired nice people, and suddenly found ourselves not facing outwards, as entrepreneurs or dreams, building something—but inward, needing to grow as leaders and doers. And that’s a worthwhile path, and one I’m proud to have walked, though it’s often a steep and rocky path. I studied Authentic Leadership at Naropa University, I listened to endless hours of criticism, most of it constructive and helpful, even if it was difficult to hear. And I grew, and learned.

One of those learning moments was with my colleague X, who said, you know, that anger stuff you do really isn’t helpful, or good, you should stop doing that. But the way he said it was open, a conversation. So it allowed me to unpack my beliefs around it. I said, well, anger isn’t bad, completely, it can be clarifying and clear and cutting of BS, disrespect, laziness…a whole host of obstacles.

And he said something like, those may be real obstacles, but anger or temper still isn’t the way to deal with those things. And that made sense to me, and I have slowly, or perhaps quickly given my life habits, grown out of that way of doing things. And as noted above, I still fall into it sometimes, when stressed, when frustrated, when caring but confused.

In that vein, I’ve known many cooks in my life, and many in the Buddhist world, and most of them were aggressive. So I found this helpful—for me, and perhaps for you, and certainly for them.


Eric Ripert: We Shouldn’t Be Proud of Chefs Who Are Screaming In The Kitchen

Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, & the Glorification of Verbal Abuse in Toxic Work Environments.

A great comment:

“I was in a theater production where the conductor yelled at one of the instrumentalists. I complained to my brother, a doctor, saying something like “I could understand if people in your line of work yell, because they’re saving lives. We’re just making music!” And he goes “yelling isn’t appropriate in medicine either.”

Like another commenter said, it just shows you’re not communicating or teaching effectively.”



A reminder of what we’re talking about:

A few more comments on the Ripert video:

“I worked with James Beard chefs, and two who won Iron Chef. None of them yelled. They were very happy and thought good food was life changing. Spent a summer at a speakeasy writing their cocktail menu for the next two years, chef yelled and threw stuff. He wasn’t even very good. My experience is the pretend chefs believe the TV shows. The good ones are surrounded by quality chefs they hand picked. Therefore they’ve no reason to yell.”

“I think it’s not unlike the various guys who worked as assistants to Bill Belichik, go somewhere else and try to impose the “Patriot Way”, and flame out terribly.

Bill Belichik is a huge asshole, AND a great football coach. But the first part isn’t required for the second part, and that second part is way more important but much harder. So if you’re not as good, you lean into the asshole bit as a way of compensating. And like Ripert says, having that example of a successful asshole on TV is destructive.”

A few more:

“Yeah I never liked that behaviour either. It just creates a horrible atmosphere in already difficult conditions and makes people dread going to work. It’s no wonder the mental health stats for people working in kitchens is so terrible. I’d say about 50% of the chefs I worked with had some sort of mental episode (including myself) at some point.

If I ever spotted any of the junior chefs starting to flail because of the pressure I’d just send them outside to cool off for 5 minutes. Shouting at someone who’s already buckling doesnt help anyone. Doesn’t help them, doesn’t help you, doesn’t help the customer. Just get them out of it so they can gather their head and bring them back in and start fresh.”


“Yep, where I work (upper mid lvl restaurant) if someone drops a trey of food or glasses or whatever it may be everyone but the person who just embarrassed themself starts working together to fix the situation and the person usually is told to go sit in the office or outside to give them a second to calm down a little.”

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