WITH THE RE-SEASONING
CHEF PHILMAN GEORGE & ELLE ASIEDU
Re-Seasoning for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry.
As the industry seeks to understand (and hopefully embrace) meaningful diversity, equity and inclusion education within their workplace cultures to connect with employees and consumers, there’s no shortage of organizations stepping in to facilitate. What’s more, consumers are demanding more of the businesses they support.
The Re-Seasoning Coalition offers something a little different and a lot needed: a Black-owned and managed not-for-profit consultancy that provides foundational DE&I education and programming, with a focus on accelerating the movement of Black professionals into senior foodservice and hospitality roles. Officially launching this fall after two years of research and incubation, The Coalition’s programming is derived from the lived experiences of co-founders Chef Philman George and Elle Asiedu who share a common passion and understanding of the inner workings of the industry and what it means to be a Black foodservice professional.
CHEF PHILMAN GEORGE
Co-Founder, The Re-Seasoning Coalition | Corporate Chef, High Liner Foods Inc.
Chef Philman has over 20 years of industry experience and is no stranger to seafood! With both of his parents hailing from the small Caribbean island of Barbuda, he naturally learned to appreciate seafood at a young age. He has worked in a wide variety of establishments from the traditional English style pub to award winning restaurants, private clubs & hotels in Canada, Australia and the Caribbean. Chef Philman enjoys creating food that represents his lived experiences and his Barbudan heritage. He is also the father of two young boys, a loving husband and a proud Trustee of The Be Foundation, which is an NGO helping empower Barbudans to advocate for sustainable social change. Chef Philman was recently selected to join the Black Food Sovereignty Advisory Circle to help advance Toronto’s Black Food Sovereignty Plan.
Co-Founder, The Re-Seasoning Coalition
Elle is a passionate leader and serial entrepreneur with strategic marketing experience in the public and private sectors. A strong believer in continuous improvement, she looks forward to sharing the work and insights developed by The Re-Seasoning Coalition so that the entire food industry can benefit from supporting, including, and uplifting marginalized voices.
The idea to develop the The Re-Seasoning Coalition was sparked more than two years ago, when Chef Philman George and Elle Asiedu were immersed in separate careers, yet independently looking for the right opportunity to incubate meaningful change within the industry they both love. “Once I realized that change was necessary, I reached out to Restaurants Canada to have some discussions”, Philman recalls. “Elle was working with another organization that time, but we were of the same mind. We realized we had to make systemic change, and the way to make it was through Restaurants Canada.” Elle agrees. “At the time, I was working for another organization focused on food, so the seed for a natural partnership was there. All the experiences I’ve had in my life and all the projects I’ve worked on in some way have all been connected to the Black community and Black people. Helping them reach new levels of excellence, helping them restructure their businesses to improve profitability and so on—so this was an easy “yes” for me. The DE&I needle hasn’t really moved in this industry despite studies proving that it’s essential for innovation and growth. The Re-Seasoning Coalition exists to help answer the question “Why?” and to address what is holding organizations back. Being able to have Phil’s chef, restaurant and corporate food experience made it easy to start to have those conversations with Restaurants Canada. We’ve been working very hard in the background to make sure we get it right and making sure we’re using the language and the data to really prove that a systemic problem exists within our industry.”
Chef Philman’s motivation to commit to building the Coalition was both professional and deeply personal. “We’re in the hospitality industry. This industry is fueled by people. It doesn’t matter how big or how small you are – your doors don’t open without people. Right now, we’re in this situation, due to the pandemic and due to the structures of our industry that have never been focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. That was a fire that was already burning, and then you layer on the pandemic…nobody wants to work in this industry anymore. It doesn’t matter if you’re a small restaurant or a big corporation, you’re affected by that lack of labour.
I think it’s even more important for the small, independent operator because they’re the ones studded around all our neighbourhoods. They’re the ones that keep our neighbourhoods glued together. We all saw what happened when those restaurants closed down and that glue was no longer there. If you’re leaving a certain group behind in your labour pool and human resources, you’re not going to capitalize and move forward. If you want to succeed in this industry, you’re going to need people, and we hope that The Re-Seasoning Coalition is an organization people can look toward to make sure they have all the structures in place to help every individual thrive.”
The value of diverse workforces has been documented now for decades. Diverse teams tend to return larger profits and are a catalyst for innovation and new ideas. The Coalition believes that strong work on diversity is a key cultural and competitive elevator to help restaurants survive the challenges ahead. “This is more than a moral imperative. It’s tied to innovation. It’s tied to success.” says Elle, referring to the labour crisis consuming restaurants and the entire foodservice industry. Within this shared challenge, the Coalition sees an opportunity to address labour challenges by accelerating meaningful change to attract new Black talent to the industry and to create opportunities for Black foodservice professionals to grow and thrive. Elle highlights these efforts: “A large part of our focus is concentrated on recruitment—helping to address and correct labour shortages by helping participants implement anti-oppressive frameworks within their companies and by empowering them to create working environments that are inclusive to all folks.”
Weighing names for the new non-profit that captured both the organizational goal and industry of focus, the co-founders were inspired by the re-seasoning process that optimizes the performance of a foodservice staple, described on thereseasoning.org: “Just as a cast iron skillet needs to be re-seasoned regularly for optimum performance, the food industry needs to be re-calibrated for the highest grade of representation, service delivery and innovation.”
Supported by Restaurants Canada, High Liner Foods, and Technomic, The Re-Seasoning Coalition has developed a comprehensive research report illuminated by the results of an omnibus survey that asked Canadian consumers to share their views on racism, systemic racism and anti-Black racism within the foodservice industry as well as their expectation of restaurants, organizations and brands to address these inequalities. During a webinar hosted by Restaurants Canada at the beginning of October, the Coalition shared Technomic’s compelling research insights bolstered by proprietary survey results that underscored the need – and opportunity – for urgent action.
The DE&I needle hasn’t really moved in this industry despite studies proving that it’s essential for innovation and growth. The Re-Seasoning Coalition exists to help answer the question “Why”?”
– ELLE ASIEDU
As principals of The Re-Seasoning Coalition, Elle and Philman are as much business leaders as they are invested advocates and ambassadors. At the end of October, they will be attending Day on the Hill in Ottawa alongside Restaurants Canada, to share their research and insights with federal government leaders as they prepare for the launch of their programming offering in early 2023. The co-founders believe research is best understood—and its implications truly felt—when reinforced by first-person, ‘human’ stories. So, to personalize their message and connect with foodservice leaders, the Coalition will be releasing a series of digital stories and lived experiences from Black restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, and front- and back-of-house staff beginning in November.
So, how does a restaurant or corporate business get “Re-Seasoned’? Businesses will self-select their Re-Seasoning journey based on three programming tiers. “Programming delivery for clients relies on several important factors including where they feel they are in terms of their DE&I work to date; how knowledgeable they feel they are about anti-Black racism and systemic racism and addressing those issues within their own workforce, and how important that is to their corporate mission, vision and values,” Elle explains. “This will help us understand where they are, match them to one of our tiers and customize the best package of programming to meet their goals.”
Programming falls into three primary buckets—policy review, recruitment and mentorship—and is designed to collaboratively support clients throughout the process. “Recruitment supports include learning how to implement equitable policies and how to create strategic pipelines for Black employees,” Elle explains. “What do job postings look like? What do the roles need to reflect? How do you learn to hire for competencies instead of education alone?” How are businesses connecting with community organizations that may have a large talent pool who may not have had the opportunity to attend recognized schools and programs?” These are the questions the Coalition identifies as foundational to help businesses reshape their hiring strategies to bridge the labour gap now and carry them into the future.
This industry is fueled by people. It doesn’t matter how big or how small you are – your doors don’t open without people. Right now, we’re in this situation, due to the pandemic and due to the structures of our industry that have never been focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
– CHEF PHILMAN GEORGE
No matter which tier organizations fall into, re-seasoning starts with anti-oppression training from experts connected to the Coalition. From there, clients move through the programming and training to achieve their goals. A key differentiator of Re-Seasoning facilitation is that clients do not “graduate” until key criteria are met. The coalition is actively invested in making sure the work gets done and that client organizations have fully completed their program, are “walking the talk”, and are truly Re-Seasoned. This proof-or credential-based approach allows clients to promote the value of the program investment to their leadership and employees as they work toward earning formal Re-Seasoning certification. Elle points out that certification both acknowledges organizational success and provides a valuable credential visible to current and future employees and consumers. “By year two or year three, consumers will be able to look at organizations and say, “You know what, I feel great about applying to work here.” or “I feel great about supporting these restaurants because I know they’re doing the work internally, not just because their social media page says they are.”
The programming design is driven by Elle and Philman’s hands-on experience as Black professionals working within diverse foodservice operation styles, and a commitment to serving all formats – from chef-driven and mom-and-pop independents to franchisees and publicly-traded companies. The Coalition’s programming and consultancy services consider and accommodate unique operating environments to deliver consistent content with modified approaches without compromising core content or philosophies. “The independents are the glue that keeps our communities together, yet they have very little time and few resources.” Chef Philman points out. “Everybody understands that DE&I is of importance, but we also see that hardly anybody has a program in place to get to their goals. We saw that gap and felt that we could fill it. We hope to leverage the programming and resources we create on behalf of big corporations to subsidize service and access for the smaller independents.”
The Re-Seasoning Coalition puts action to Technomic executive vice-president Patrick Noone’s words: “Canada is facing a moral awakening in how social justice is achieved… Unlike past social issues, consumers are demanding that the foodservice industry speaks up.”