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Kindness in the kitchen: cultivating a more genial workplace

Natalie Rosen, co-owner and chef at Fawn in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, is revolutionizing behind-the-scenes in the restaurant industry by providing high-quality staff meals, crafting an inviting workplace, and focusing on positive kitchen culture. Unlike the stereotypical stressful kitchen environments, Fawn is a breath of fresh air where staff meals are as thoughtfully prepared as those for guests. This practice not only showcases Rosen’s culinary skills but also her commitment to the wellbeing of her team.

Rosen’s journey into the culinary world was unexpected. Initially aspiring to a high-earning profession, her passion for cooking, nurtured from a young age in a household that valued great food and creative expression, led her down a different path. An impromptu visit to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris redirected her from a potential medical career to embracing her true calling as a chef. This pivotal moment showcased how Rosen’s upbringing and personal experiences shaped her culinary philosophy.

Fawn is not just about exceptional food; it’s a statement against the prevailing gender imbalance and toxic culture in many professional kitchens. With women representing a significant portion of culinary students but not holding as many positions in professional kitchens, Rosen aims to create a more inclusive and respectful environment. Her leadership style is based on kindness and support, fostering a workspace where everyone feels valued and respected, a stark contrast to the harsh realities many cooks face in the industry.

One of Fawn’s unique features is its approach to tips and wages, promoting fairness and a livable income for all staff members. This equitable distribution of tips is part of Rosen’s broader goal to ensure every team member is appreciated and compensated fairly, challenging the industry’s standard practices. This approach has fostered a strong sense of community and dedication among the staff, who are motivated to contribute creatively and supportively to the restaurant’s success.

Rosen’s commitment to changing the kitchen culture extends to the physical layout of Fawn’s kitchen, which is designed to be open and filled with natural light, promoting transparency and a healthier work environment. This design choice reflects her belief in the “right to light” and her determination to prevent the negative behaviors that can thrive in closed, unseen spaces. Her leadership and thoughtful kitchen design have made Fawn a model for what a positive and productive culinary workplace can look like.

Despite facing personal challenges, such as a broken elbow just before Valentine’s Day, Rosen’s resilience and dedication to her craft and her team are unwavering. Her ability to adapt and continue contributing, even in the face of adversity, is a testament to her passion for cooking and her commitment to Fawn’s success. Natalie Rosen and Fawn stand as beacons of positivity and innovation in Canada’s culinary industry, inspiring change and demonstrating the power of kindness and inclusivity in creating a thriving restaurant.

Fawn Restaurant’s website