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Counter Talk: The Platform Reinventing Kitchen Recruitment

Ravneet Gill

I meet Ravneet Gill just before Christmas, nearing the end of her quest to find London’s greatest mince pie, We chat whilst dissecting the filling of Stoney Street’s contender: ‘Mmm is that a bit of fig?’ Rav asks. For those who know Rav and her unwavering appreciation for all things sweet, this type of encounter will come as no surprise. For those who don’t, allow me to introduce you to one of London’s most talented pastry chefs, founder of hospitality platformCounter Talk and a true voice of authority from within the food industry on ethical working practices.

By her own admission, Rav entered the culinary world naively. She knew she liked cooking and eating (pastry in particular) but didn’t understand what it really meant to be a chef. After training at the Cordon Bleu she dived head first into the unknown world of restaurant kitchens, concluding ‘Well I can’t not be a chef now’.

These years working as a junior chef were far from easy; Rav describes going into a new kitchen as like walking into ‘a prison’ and ‘you were fresh meat’. ‘Weird things would happen in the kitchen and for years I would just think that it was normal’, she tells me. Bullying was legitimised by an ‘oh well’ attitude that made it an accepted part of the kitchen culture, and in one job Rav was made to feel so uncomfortable by repeat propositions from a senior member of staff that she had to leave. It was an extremely intimidating environment.

Fast forward six years and Rav is earning a reputation for her patisserie ability, cheffing and working as a pastry consultant for new businesses. However, through these years of experience, something else had materialised: Rav’s frustration with the lack of representation for ‘behind the scenes people’ in the hospitality industry. Rav wondered ‘if other people felt the same way’ about the alienating community that she was now a part of. Wanting to create a network that was accessible to all, she decided to set up an Instagram page, Counter Talk, to connect more people working in the food industry through hospitality events.

What started as something small, soon blew up. Counter Talk and the community that Rav was building resonated with people. In response Rav expanded from hosting networking events and supper clubs to launching Counter Talk careers, a recruitment platform promoting healthier work environments within hospitality.

So how does Counter Talk work? Each business that wants to post a job on the platform has to undergo a vetting process to make sure that they align with the fair working practices that the community promotes. I ask Rav what some of these are and she elaborates. ‘Staff food, you get perks that are more than just holiday, you get paid overtime and you are given proper breaks’. For other industries these standards may feel like a given, but in one notorious for its often unbearable working conditions, this feels revolutionary.

Further questions include: ‘Will you openly consider employing someone regardless of their race, gender, or disability?’ Some are left open ended like ’Outline your values’, and provide an opportunity for employers to take a moment of reflection, to share their ethos in their own words. Opening up this type of conversation is crucial for Rav, knowing that if the job is posted, once filled, the applicant will have every chance of being happy within their new working environment.

The reality of living and breathing a community like Counter Talk, and feeling partly responsible for people’s happiness is intense. Going forward, Rav reflects on how she needs to draw some boundaries for herself ‘I sometimes wish I didn’t have a platform’ she bravely admits. ‘I can offer advice (but in order to be a success) you still need to graft hard, Counter Talk shouldn’t be seen as an easy way to progress’.

Rav’s honesty on the realities of being seen as an authority on restaurant treatment is refreshing. Difficulties aside, ‘it is all worth it when you receive a message from someone who loves their job and is excelling.’ Rav’s face lights up. Her genuine want to help people and make a difference is clear and is what keeps the platform growing.

So what’s next for Counter Talk? Primarily, looking into education and job retention – ‘it’s all well and good getting someone a job, but if they leave, why haven’t they stayed?’ – as well as expanding careers to encompass different roles, aside from just restaurant work. Through this Rav hopes to inspire new businesses whilst highlighting and generating respect for different roles within the industry. Having just written her first book The Pastry Chef’s Guide, released in April this year, Rav has a new found appreciation for food writing, having not realised how difficult it was beforehand.

Rav’s thirst for learning is obvious, but what strikes me most is her modesty. She admits herself that it is only now, two years down the line, that she has the confidence to say ‘I have a startup company’.  For someone who outwardly exudes poise, it was inspiring to hear Rav expressing her worries and doubts; creating a genuine portrayal of the realities of starting a business.

Finally, I ask Rav what her thoughts are on being identified as a woman in food? ‘I’m quite against doing things whereby I am the only token women of colour’. ‘I don’t want people just to be interested in me because I am a woman’ Rav states. She acknowledges that ‘There isn’t enough representation of amazing women (in the industry)’ but stresses that they do exist and should be celebrated. In regards to Counter Talk, her platform is kept gender neutral on purpose. Rav is wary of her business being understood through the context of her gender alone, because of the limitations that imposes: ’It’s all about inclusivity and there are so many dimensions to that be it race, class, gender etc’. The aim is clear: Counter Talk is a hospitality community for everyone.

Ravneet Gill is speaking at OmVed Gardens on April 6th as part of The Chefs’ Manifesto. For more information, contact jen@omvedgardens.com