For the past two weeks radio stations, TV stations, friends, colleagues and pals on social media have been calling and mailing me for my opinion on the Marwako issue, given the fact that I have been working in commercial kitchens since I was 14 years old and have had the opportunity to rise through the ranks of a kitchen cleaner to the manager of commercial kitchens.
Earlier, I had decided to be mute on the issue but now I think sharing my reflections will go a long way to educate people who don’t know what goes into the food they enjoy in restaurants and hotels within our hospitality industry.
We live in a world today where social media has made it possible for people to easily share their sympathy for the problems of humanity with the touch of their mobile devices. Flood explosion at Circle and social media is flooded with millions of sympathies and solutions. Someone commits suicide and we share sympathies till another thing happens. This and many other social issues that society face will always trend on social media. Social media is a good tool for us to express our emotions but we must remember that there is life beyond social media and it is called “reality”.
Our world today needs people who will step into the problems and pains of our world to offer solutions rather than stand outside of the problems .We have tried sympathy for so many years, now let’s try empathy.
There is this secrecy pact most chefs and cooks can identify with. “What happens in the kitchen stays in kitchen.” Right from the day I took the job of a kitchen cleaner in Lagos, Nigeria at the age 14 years, I became familiar with flying plates, knives, forks, pepper and all kinds of things in a kitchen.
I remember a particular Sunday night – I was in a rush to go home to prepare for school on Monday and in my haste threw away the sauce my headchef had prepared. He insulted and threw plates at me, and at that poin I started crying and shouted out “do you think if my mummy was alive, I would be a cleaner here whiles my mates are in school?” Did my chef care? No, but the following day he invited me to his office and apologizes for his actions because I reacted to his actions immediately and that was how he became the mentor who helped me to realize my potential as a scientist in cooking. How many Ghanaian vocational schools teach the realities of commercial kitchens? “You don’t prepare an antelope for a battle and put it into the midst of lions in a jungle.”
I never understood why chefs and kitchen supervisors across the world are so heartless until I became a Sous Chef at Chase Restaurant in 2011. The pressure and silent psychological trauma that the profession came with can turn -45 degrees to 20 degrees in 5 minutes.
Away from the kitchen, I am the Elijah you know but back in the kitchen I’m a different kind of creature. All chefs and cooks are synonymous with that law of nature. The pressure of ensuring consistency in food quality to beat competition from other hospitality companies, meeting your monthly G.P on food costing to ensure profitability, dealing with the failures of ingredient suppliers, dealing with staff problems, buying and maintaining very expensive kitchen equipments, meeting health and safety standards in the kitchen are a few of the many hurdles kitchen managers have to deal with daily. In an attempt to address the stress, employers will tell you that is why you get two day’s off work every week to overcome the stress, but that is not enough
Management and customers will not accept any of this as a excuse if there’s problem with the food they ordered. Most times chefs have had to sleep over in the kitchen to be on top on issues and that is why most chefs turn to smoking, drugs and alcohol as a way of overcoming stress.
This is why some hotels and restaurants in Ghana will go the extra mile to bring in expatriate chefs to manage their kitchens with the perception that local chefs can’t handle the pressures in a kitchen. I remember while serving as secretary of the Greater Accra Chefs Association, I suggested at a tourism forum that Ghana Tourism Authority should help the association to have a counseling unit that works with hospitality companies to support kitchen staffs to overcome pressures associated with the profession.
Punishing the management and supervisor of Marwako as a deterrent will not bring to an end the occurrence of kitchen manager’s “boiling over their staff” incidence in the hospitality industry. It happens in every hospitality company across the world. In regards to this issue what I think all stakeholder’s within the hospitality industry in Ghana should do are as follows:
– Chefs, cooks, kitchen staffs and managements of hospitality companies in Ghana should come out and accept that it is a problem that happens in the profession and form a consensus towards addressing it
– The Ghana Tourism Authority and Ghana Tourism Federation should work with the Chefs Association of Ghana and other stakeholder’s within the hospitality industry to establish an anger and emotional management unit that gives training to people who work in the industry
– Management of hospitality companies in Ghana should allow their kitchen staff especially young cooks and chefs to join and attend programs and training of the Chefs Association of Ghana
– Ghana Tourism Authority and it’s partners should make it compulsory for all expatriates who intend to work in commercial kitchens in Ghana to register with the Chefs Association of Ghana as members in order for them to be giving support and training on working with Ghanaians.
– Stress management in Africa should be a core principal focus of all stakeholder’s in society
By Chef Elijah Amoo Addo