Alex Baker, Head Chef at popular Tribeca bistro Yves
Head Chef at Yves
So, what are you drinking?
Espresso. It’s all I ever have time for!
How did you become a chef?
I worked as a cook during college to pay the bills and during that time I realized it was more than just a job to me. I felt passionate about food and cooking. That same year I studied abroad in Italy and traveled to Paris for a weekend. I immediately fell in love with the city and I decided to go to culinary school there. It was such a magical place to learn how to cook.
What do you love most about the kitchen?
I love the camaraderie. You spend so much time together and it becomes like a second family. It’s really very special.
What is your vision of equality?
I’d like to see a world where everyone has the same chance to grow and prosper.
What qualities/values do you think are necessary in an individual to be a contributor to achieving equality as a society?
I think a person that is trying to achieve equality in society needs to be steadfast, empathetic and compassionate.
How do you bring these qualities/values to your role as head chef to create an environment in your kitchen that mirrors your idea of equality?
I never give up on anyone. It is so important to me that all of my staff - my sous chef, my cooks, my dishwashers - all feel like they have the opportunity to learn and grow within my kitchen, no matter what level they are on.
I treat everyone equally with respect and compassion. Kitchens are very diverse workplaces and I think that is one of our best qualities as an industry. We all learn and grow from each other. We have different backgrounds and come from all over the world. In our kitchen at Yves we have 3 languages spoken. Everyone is learning a new language while just being at work - English, French and Spanish.
Our dishwasher, Shaggy, has been showing interest in becoming a cook. He is from Burkina Faso, Africa and his first language is French. He is the most hardworking person and so loyal. He just started working on the garde manger station and it has been really fun teaching him and watching him grow. These kinds of things take time and effort but in the end are so incredibly worth it. Not only is it great for him to learn new skills and do something he loves but also, it helps us as a team. He has also brought all his friends to work for me as well. When you allow people to prosper in your work environment and give them opportunity, they will always give back. Teaching Shaggy to cook has been one of my favorite things about becoming a Chef so far.
How do you think the hospitality industry at large is handling equality? What are the positives and negatives?
I think we have come really far as an industry but we have a long way to go. In terms of women in kitchens we are really making strides right now and I only see it improving. There is a lot of talk about women’s roles in kitchens currently and I think that’s so great. The more we talk about it and create awareness the more we create change.
There has also been a lot of press coming out about sexual harassment in kitchens. The kitchen has been a boys club for so long. Now women are stepping up and taking leadership roles. I’m hoping that because of this we will see this kind of behavior decrease.
The restaurant industry has always been a place that welcomes minorities and people from all different backgrounds. I love that about it. I’d like to see more minorities in leadership roles, though.
How much of a personal burden would it be to balance creating equality in the kitchen with ensuring profitability?
I don’t see it as a burden at all. When you take the time to create equal opportunity and give people chances they almost always give back. When I started at Yves, I was the only woman. Since, I have hired a woman sous chef and my sister as a cook. It’s been nice having a balance of gender in the kitchen. It benefits everyone.
In your opinion, is your vision of equality achievable in your kitchen? and industry?
Absolutely. We work towards equality everyday.
In your industry?
Definitely achievable and we are getting there.
Society at large?
Of course equality is achievable as a society. We have to all work together to get there, though. It’s hard. But, I think the younger generations are so open-minded and really pushing for change and I’m hopeful for our future.
Thank you so much for taking the time.