-Article written by Paul Shapiro for Herald Sun 7/10/2018
POSITION vacant, 70 hours a week, no overtime, no social life, minimal contact with family and friends, exhaustion, must be able to deal with alcoholism, drug use and depression, must be able to suck it up.
It hardly sounds like a dream job but clearly I’m joking, right? No way could anyone do that.
Unfortunately, I’m not joking as it’s a hopeless reality for many chefs. Everyone knows chefs do long hours, that’s just part of the job, right?
And everyone knows the falsehood that chefs are either “alcos” or “druggies”, that’s also part of the job, right?
So it’s probably about time we stopped joking about something so serious especially after Anthony Bourdain became the latest chef to take his own life.
I was a chef at several Melbourne restaurants for the best part of two decades before I could finally pull the pin.
Picture this, you get home at 2 am after working a 16-hour day, speak to no one, watch a bit of television and then try to get some sleep before your alarm goes off at 6:30 am so you can do it all again.
Get to work and it’s a mad rush to get all your prep done before lunch service, which is busy, then clean up, hopefully sit down fo a half hour, get ready for dinner service, get slammed, clean up, go home and so on.
Not too bad? Throw in a demanding boss, angry customers and fellow tired, grumpy chefs and then do it day-in, day-out for 10 years straight.
Exhaustion, stress and isolation mixed with alcohol and perhaps some drug use is a sure recipe for serious mental issues.
Bourdain’s death was a tragedy but it should also serve to highlight anxiety and depression in the hospitality industry.
You only have to read Kitchen Confidential to know Bourdain lived a chef’s life.
I don’t know Bourdain so I can’t possibly presume why he took his own life but his death follows on from other recent high-profile chefs to die in tragic circumstances.
Last year, renowned Sydney hatted chef Jeremy Strode took his own life and celebrity chef Darren Simpson passed away after a long battle with alcoholism.
Thousands of other rank-and file chefs currently working in Australian kitchens are risking serious mental problems if nothing is done to change the industry.
Yes, owners need to ensure their employees are looked after but a big part of the problem is the chefs themselves.
The attitude in a kitchen is to “suck it up” or, one of my least favourite sayings, “go to Bunnings and get some cement to harden up”.
A lot of chefs I worked with had a warped sense of bravado, like it was an honour to work long hours, get drunk after work and front up hung-over the next morning.
Chefs also pride themselves on their ability to handle pressure even though few actually can.
For the first half of my career I took a salary and worked unpaid overtime, weekends and public holidays without really worrying about my bank balance or my health.
That all changed in 2006 when I was working at a high-profile restaurant owned by a high profile chef.
I worked 100-plus hours in each of my first two weeks on the job.