Ashley Christensen is no stranger to taking a stand. The James Beard Award-winning chef has been one of the most eloquent local voices on issues ranging from North Carolina’s bathroom bill to misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace. So it was no surprise, but quite the viral sensation, when Christensen took an Instagram follower to task last month for having the audacity to suggest that she “just cook and be quiet.”
Christensen had posted a photo of herself and Michelle Obama, one of her “personal heroes,” wishing the former First Lady a happy birthday. Her response to the commenter—whose handle suggests he’s a foodie from Pinehurst but who quickly made his account private—takes a necessary look at how some feel entitled to treat service industry workers poorly, and how some can be made to feel uncomfortable when public figures, famous primarily for their trade or profession, deign to express an opinion outside of that scope.
“Your initial comment to me…is a command, suggesting that you view me and my colleagues as mere servants of a trade to fill your belly,” Christensen wrote. “It implies that chefs and cooks should put their heads down, cook their food, and make their customers happy. First I want to share with you… I am not employed by “customers.” I am an employer of hundreds of incredible hospitality professionals in the capital city of the state you call home. Together, we work tirelessly to create and invest in the relationship of hospitality with GUESTS.”
Even though the vast majority of restaurant patrons wouldn’t dream of treating a chef or service industry worker as less-than, the post is a poignant reminder that elitist attitudes still exist and that the growing population of service industry employees don’t enjoy many of the working protections that other professionals take for granted—fair pay, job security, and freedom from harassment and discrimination all come to mind as examples. As a well-known chef with a considerable amount of success and influence, Christensen is rightly admired for her activism on behalf of many people, particularly those in her industry. Demanding her silence is not only rude but it does a disservice to all of them.