But former employees say faked ingredients, sexual harassment and an abusive kitchen are the real story. Blaine Wetzel, chef and co-owner of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, denied allegations that his kitchen fails to live up to the ideals he broadcasts to the world. Amber Fouts. By Julia Moskin. At age 24, he was fresh off a two-year stint at the vaunted Copenhagen restaurant Noma. He could have found a job in any kitchen in the world. Sight unseen, Mr. Since he took over the kitchen at the Willows Innit has become a global destinationfully booked nearly every night of its annual season, from April to December.
Culinary pilgrims come for multicourse dinners of foraged dandelions, custards infused with roasted birch bark and salmon pulled from Pacific waters they can see from the dining room. After dinner, they float up to one of the luxe-rustic bedrooms, and wake up to wild blackberries and long-fermented sourdough. Wetzel tells to diners, to the media and to aspiring chefs who come to Lummi to learn from him — is deeply misleading.
For years, they said, Mr. Wetzel, including racist, sexist and homophobic slurs; and sexual harassment of female employees by male kitchen staff members. Former employees who grew up on the island told The Times that as teenage girls, they were touched inappropriately, given drugs and alcohol and pressured into having sex by men on the kitchen staff and visiting chefs.
Former managers said Mr. In response to questions from The Times, Mr. Our goal is for anyone who works at the Willows to think of us as the most kind, caring, generous, and talented people they have ever worked with and that the Willows was the best job they have ever had. If we are missing that mark in any way, we must improve. In a subsequentMr. Wetzel, 35, denied the substance of most allegations. Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.
Along with eight other senior staff members, she reed last season, disgusted by a toxic culture they say begins with Mr. Some former employees said the Willows is no worse than other top kitchens, where perfectionism is rewarded and fanaticism about ingredients is admired. But far more said that Mr. The Willows opened for the season this month. Some of the new chefs have worked with Mr.
Soto-Innes reed from those restaurants in December and moved to Lummi, but she and Mr. Wetzel told The Times she had never worked at the Willows. But all of the restaurant employees interviewed disputed that claim. In fact, they said, most ingredients were ordered from distributors and farms on the mainland. When local produce ran out, cooks routinely bought supermarket ingredients, Craigslist Tome sex beets and broccoli, that were then passed off as grown or gathered on Lummi. Weymiller, Guests who requested vegetarian and vegan versions of the menu, they said, were routinely served standard dishes made with chicken and seafood.
Wetzel denied this. In response, Mr. He did not, however, deny that many ingredients came from elsewhere, including organic chickens. Employees said they were uncomfortable with the lies, but far more troubled by the poisonous work atmosphere. Wetzel shoved, screamed at and sent him home in full view of customers when he served a course out of order to one table.
Wetzel denied this; several employees confirmed it. The MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements have produced new awareness and language regarding inequality, bias and harassment in kitchens. But Willows employees said the kitchen atmosphere of misogynistic language and homophobic slurs has remained. Wetzel has publicly humiliated cooks whose work displeased him, often using a derogatory term for mentally disabled people to disparage them. He also has used racist language to describe Latino employees and Asian customers, they said.
But last summer, Mr. Nguyen said, after he and another Asian-American chef confronted Mr. Wetzel about using offensive language, including a racist slur directed at them, Mr. Wetzel denied ever having done so.
Both chefs reed within a day. Weymiller, the sous-chef, also quit in solidarity. Wetzel said he had never used racist language of any kind.
Female cooks said that in addition to enduring constant barrages of sexual innuendo from male colleagues, they were consistently blocked from promotion and nudged out of the main kitchen by Mr. More than 30 women have worked in the kitchen as interns and line cooks, Mr. Wetzel said.
But none have been promoted to sous-chef or chef de cuisine; the two women he identified as former sous-chefs there said they had never held that job. On the innkeeping side, and in the dining room, some women have been promoted to managerial positions.
Jen Curtis, 39, was a seasoned chef de cuisine when she left a job and went back to culinary school, just so she would be eligible to cook at the Willows as an intern. Curtis, who grew up on a Cape Cod farm. A torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the United States began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
When she was hired full time, she said, Mr. Wetzel told her she was in line for a sous-chef position.
Many employees said they had heard the same promise, usually when they were on the verge of quitting. But she said that after two years of watching younger men steadily being promoted ahead of her, and seeing other female chefs ignored, she reed. Many former employees said they put up with Mr. But many others left midseason, or walked out midshift. Going to Mr. Johnson, the longtime manager, was the only recourse for the many employees who clashed with Mr.
But, they said, Mr. Johnson did not comment for this article, but Mr. Employees said it was during the season, as the senior staff was reing en masse and the Willows, like many workplaces, was forced to confront its institutional racism and other problems. Inafter employees reported the Willows Craigslist Tome sex the U. In March, Mr. As part of the settlement, he was not required to admit any wrongdoing. According to public records, Mr. Wetzel co-owns the Willows with one partner, Tim McEvoy, who did not respond to requests for comment.
After 10 years with Mr. A dozen women who worked at the Willows said that men on Mr. Female employees from the island said Mr. Wetzel and other managers ordered them to lose weight and get manicures and eyelash extensions at their own expense, in order to polish the image the restaurant wanted to project.
Several women who worked at the Willows said they did have sex with kitchen crew members. All said it occurred after they turned 16, the legal age of consent in Washington State. None said Mr. Wetzel had sex with staff members.
Many employees said Mr. Wetzel and Mr. Johnson were frequently present at events where underage employees drank with older staff members until they were unconscious. When Ms. Letchworth was 18, she said, Mr. Wetzel offered her a ride home from a party but instead drove to his house, then refused to take her home unless she did rounds of shots with him.
He then drove her home while drunk, she said. The pandemic proved to be a breaking point.
Wetzel reopened the restaurant in June, and in the fall, at least one Covid case on the island was traced to a guest at the inn. The Willows managers said that they feared for the safety of guests, staff and islanders, and that Mr. Nguyen, 32, the chef who reed because of Mr. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.
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