Great column by Thomas Farragher on a chef who overcame the brutal hazing we are only hearing about the last few years in the restaurant business. Men used to (sometimes still do) insist the restaurant kitchen is a man’s domain.
[Denise Graffeo in 1974]
In 1974, she was 24 and newly divorced. She lived on the top floor above that restaurant, working a grueling morning-to-night schedule, scarcely feeling sunshine on her face for six months.
“This was my first experience in the world where it was all up to me,’’ said Graffeo, who became the first woman elected into the American Academy of Chefs Hall of Fame this year.
“I was going to succeed because I would not let myself fail. I’m all pumped up because I had a cookbook from the Culinary Institute of America. It wasn’t much. But it was mine.’’ …..
…By the time she walked into the Ritz-Carlton kitchen in 1979, she was one of a handful of women working among 50 men. She also learned a valuable lesson: Never let them see you cry.
“Two years, I cried,’’ she said. “Always in the locker room. In the maids’ locker room.’’
She remembers colleagues who bumped her, who sabotaged her stock pot, who counted on the complicity of managers who displayed no sympathy. Her thick skin saved her.
“I had the Tap behind me,’’ she said, referring to her start in Haverhill. “You’re not going to kill me with this stuff because I could do the job. I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction. I knew the sous chef who hired me had my back because he didn’t want me to fail because if I failed, he wasn’t going to look good.’’