One woman"s horrific tale of sexual assault as a kitchen worker at Applebee"s – and how discrimination is rife in the restaurant industry

One woman's horrific tale of sexual assault as a kitchen worker at Applebee's – and how discrimination is rife in the restaurant industry

Working in a busy restaurant kitchen is a traditionally male-dominated business – Anthony Bourdain's bestselling book, Kitchen Confidential, or a look at Gordon Ramsay's infamous managerial style is enough to indicate that much.

But a female author has revealed that life in an industrial kitchen is far from an imbalance of the sexes – she claims there is deep-seated and culturally accepted sexual discrimination at work in even some well-known chain eateries.

And, the rowdy sexual aggression, she believes, is in part down to the 'kitchen-pulp docudramas' that are increasingly emerging as the public face to the private realms of the food and drink industry.

Intrepid: Tracie McMillan went undercover at Applebee's and learnt the hard way that a woman will never be one of the boys in the restaurant industry

Intrepid: Tracie McMillan went undercover at Applebee's and learnt the hard way that a woman will never be one of the boys in the restaurant industry

Researching for her book, The American Way of Eating, Tracie McMillan went undercover at some of the nation's most famous retail and food chains, including Walmart and Applebee's.

At The Daily Beast, she described the unending raunchiness, lascivious suggestions, leering colleagues and fragrant sexual passes of her co-workers at Applebee's – all handled with a steely 'ability to give as good as [she] got.'

But it was not until her last night as an expeditor in the busy kitchen that she saw a far darker side to the work.

'/03/02/article-0-12013A16000005DC-527_468x311.jpg” width=”468″ height=”311″ alt=”American way The writer said that sexual discrimination is rife in America's restaurants – and suggests it has become a nasty way of life for women in the industry” class=”blkBorder” />

American way The writer said that sexual discrimination is rife in America's restaurants – and suggests it has become a nasty way of life for women in the industry

'My last night, co-workers celebrated me at the end of service, setting a platter of fresh ceviche on the pass and handing me an iced shot of Mezcal. I was elated; I thought I’d become one of the boys.

'And then I woke up in a near-stranger’s apartment, uncertain of how I’d gotten there or how my pants had ended up on the floor.'

'I was
molested, not raped. I filed a police report, and there was an initial
arrest, but not enough evidence to pursue a case'

It took weeks, writes Ms McMillan, to eke the truth – or semi-truth – out of the woodwork among the tight-knit group of cooks and kitchen hands.

A
cook had drugged her drink, a girl from the prep kitchen had 'stepped
in' when the cook had attempted to take the inebriated Ms McMillan home,
and, having passed out in a colleague's apartment, 'a friend of another
colleague saw an opportunity and took it.

'So far as I can tell, I was
molested, not raped. I filed a police report, and there was an initial
arrest, but not enough evidence to pursue a case.'

The
nasty incident, she reports, is a 'flipside' of the media hype around
kitchens – the endless media portrayal of the hard-and-fast world of
chefs and restaurants.

Family eatery: Sexual discrimination at Applebee's may be as common as the chain restaurants themselves

Family eatery: Sexual discrimination at Applebee's may be as common as the chain restaurants themselves

'These modern adventure stories traffic heavily in tales of kitchens as a boys-gone-wild world of sex, drugs, rock and food, where you’d best get a thick skin and learn to roll with the punches', she writes at Daily Beast.

The author cites a study by the Restaurant Opportunities Center that found that over 10 per cent of restaurant workers or their co-workers had had a run-in with sexual harassment. Pay and working conditions for women are also found to be consistently worse.

Canned: The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan exposes the dark underbelly of some food giants

Canned: The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan exposes the dark underbelly of some food giants

She says that another piece of MSNBC EEOC research highlighted a shocking imbalance: 37 per cent of all female sexual harassment cases for most of 2011 came from women employed by restaurants – despite women making up just seven per cent of the industry's workforce.

The attitude, Ms McMiIllan suggests, is that the world of busy kitchens, angry chefs and cheap passes is lawless. She quotes top chef Mario Batali of Babbo fame as shrugging off a complaint of sexism from a woman cook with a nonchalant: 'This is New York… Get used to it.'

And while it is no longer confidential – as Mr Bourdain famously suggested – the industry's dark underbelly refuses to go away.

'Women who work in kitchens have little choice but to “get used to it”; their ascension in the ranks depends largely on men’s willingness to grant it to them,' Ms McMillan writes. 'And so the adventure stories continue, alluring and unquestioned.'