Global movement to promote chefs’ wellbeing comes to UAE
The #FairKitchens initiative is about helping the F&B industry create a happier, healthier workplace culture
If there’s one thing the pandemic has done, it’s throw the spotlight on mental health. One offshoot of that conversation has been about the need to change business culture and push for more empathy in the workplace. Well, a new global movement is hoping to cook up a storm along these lines in the F&B industry — and it’s now reached the shores of the UAE.
The #FairKitchens movement is all about fostering “happier and safer” kitchens. Aiming to establish a quality standard work environment for budding chefs, the initiative is asking industry leaders to adhere to a code called TEAMS, designed to support the people behind our food. The acronym stands for talk openly, excite passion, act as one, make time, and say ‘good job’.
According to the movement’s official website, research conducted by Unilever Food Solutions in 2017 already revealed a serious wellbeing issue within professional kitchens: 74 per cent of chefs were sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion; 63 per cent felt depressed, and more than half felt pushed to the breaking point. In 2020, with the additional challenges brought on by Covid-19, it only stands to reason that these issues have only been exacerbated.
The initiative has roots that go far deeper though. “Sadly, it took a number of high profile suicides and breakdowns for the industry to really talk about this more seriously, explains Joanne Limoanco-Gendrano, Executive Chef - Middle East, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Unilever Food Solutions. “While the surge of chef shows have attracted many to want to become a chef, unfortunately, it is becoming harder to retain good people to stay due to various reasons — like long unsociable hours, long-term physical effects, low pay, unhealthy work culture, and the like. With the pandemic this year, the time felt right — more than ever — to shine a light on a critical topic in the industry.”
Globally, more than 10,000 chefs are already part of the movement. Having launched in the UAE in October, the initiative is still in its infancy in the country — however, it has already been welcomed by several UAE chefs, who are keen to implement the code and ensure the wellbeing of chefs in their kitchens.
The movement has partnered with The Lighthouse Arabia, whose experts will work to help people identify the signs for anxiety disorders or depression, how to respond, and when or where to seek professional help. Last week, a webinar was also held with Chef Luma Maklouf, owner and founder of Maiz Tacos, who offered real-life scenarios on how she implemented a fair kitchen culture within their organisation. “We are seeing the movement pick up across the region as it should,” says Joanne, optimistically.
Currently, Fair Kitchens offers a platform for people to share their own stories and practices, encouraging others to start incorporating them within their teams. Joanne noted that the local industry can expect more solutions to roll out next year.
One can’t help but be curious about the weight of the last letter in the acronym. How much of an impact would such a small act of acknowledgement make, we ask. “While most praise comes from satisfied customers, inside, the kitchen is always running at a fast pace, and everyone is busy trying to keep up with the daily demands,” explains Joanne. “Saying ‘good job’ is not only about getting validation from your managers but also from your co-workers. And having that kind of acknowledgement from your peers can have a huge impact on any individual.”