The food service industry has been rife with worker walkouts over the past few years due to maltreatment and poor pay. Odd Duck Wine and Provisions is a small restaurant that strives to break the cycle. Systems of oppression such as racism, sexism and homophobia are not accepted or tolerated in the space, both in and out of the kitchen.
“Some of the dishes are mine, but quite a few of them are directly from the staff. We’re trying to lead a restaurant in a way that’s breaking down a lot of the typical ways that we came up [in],” Jon Rennie, culinary director at Odd Duck said.
As of July 13, Odd Duck has been open for a little over a month, not including soft openings. The restaurant has received overwhelming support from the local community. It runs on a “no tip” model which means Odd Duck staff get paid living wages upfront from the restaurant management. In this way they are trying to combat the wage insecurity that many in the food industry face.
“Beyond that, we really believe in supporting the community in various ways, we’ve been involved with the community fridge in Kitchener,” Rennie said.
Diners can look forward to not knowing exactly what to expect with each visit. Each meal is brought together by a team of culinarians who are truly encouraged to be creative in the food space.
“We’ve really dove into the staff’s creativity, their backgrounds, their upbringing, their food memories, to develop the venue, and this had great responses from guests and from our staff. They [the staff] just feel so much more engaged and much more involved. It’s amazing,” Rennie said.
With a decade of culinary experience under his belt, Rennie has been brought up around many traditional chefs and kitchens. The “top-down” mentality remains a strong component of the industry, where young chefs are expected to keep their heads down and obey without question.
“If you look at popular culture there’s a lot of truth to the abuses that happen within the industry as a whole,” Rennie said.
Both owners at Odd Duck make sure to manage their staff in a way that prioritizes their mental and physical health. Rennie wants to encourage a space that continues to grow and unlearn the traditional ways of running a restaurant.
“I started about three months ago, and I went from the fine dining scene in Montreal, where everything was systematic and we had like, you know, three plus staff kind of like ready for services,” Zac Berry, sous-chef at Odd Duck said.
This is Berry’s first sous-chef position. He is finding the work creatively stimulating, being encouraged to figure out his own system of preparing food with his team. Odd Duck’s team prefers to work with the whole animal. Every protein that is brought in is portioned consistently and with less food waste in mind.
“Because we’re doing a small menu here, we try and have a seafood element, a starch element. veggie element, and some sort of game elements with white meat and dark meat,” Berry said.
Shows and movies like The Bear and The Menu spotlight the toxic environments prevalent in professional kitchens. Berry wants to create every dish in a way that shows his respect for himself, his team and the customer.
“We had a lot of conversations with people [in the industry] voicing what we saw and to say, what are the reasons you’re not coming back? And generally, it was [because they were] overwhelmed and underpaid,” Rennie said.
Odd Duck believes in presenting the best food in the most sustainable and honest way possible. Ingredients for each dish are sourced from local caretakers. They make it their mission to spend their food dollars among a diverse group of framers and producers, including women in wine, black producers and queer farmers.
“Google spent millions of dollars to find out to have, you know, the happiest, most productive workforce. And it turns out the answer is treating people like human beings who have lives outside of work and make mistakes,” Rennie said.
The staff and clientele are not the only ones to notice the “Odd Duck” difference. Downtown Kitchener has widely welcomed Odd Duck since it opened. The owners have felt they have entered a supportive community with the neighbouring businesses.