So I’m still in the throes of a book deadline, but I do take time out (a.k.a. procrastinate) to read the survey results, emails and contact form submission forms that come in via this site. More that 1200 of them at this point, so I’m a little bit behind, but I did want to take a moment to respond to the single truly angry (and anonymous) communiqué that I’ve come across.
The person who wrote it (they signed it “a cook”) had some very strong feelings, so I’ve addressed each of them individually.
“Get the fuck out of the kitchen.”
I’m actually in my office. Better wifi in here.
“You think you’re doing something important? That you’re helping improve the would-be chefs/chefs?”
Well, I hope I am. And seeing as more than 1200 industry professionals have reached out to take part in the project, either by taking the survey, emailing or reaching out via the contact form like you did (though most of the latter chose to include their name, unlike you—but that’s fine) to ask how they can help, I’d say that’s pretty indicative of the fact that I’m not the only one who thinks there’s a crisis going on in the industry.
“You’re a fucking joke.”
Then it’s not a very funny one. If you sat down with me and spent just 15 minutes going through the notes I’ve gotten from people in the industry who have lost their loved ones to overdose and suicide, or chefs, servers and restaurateurs currently in the throes of despair, depression, anxiety and addiction, you might need a tissue, too.
“Nice job having people who’ve never been in a fucking kitchen help you launch this joke of a project.”
I launched it by myself, and now I’m partnering with The Heirloom Foundation. Their volunteer board of directors includes Sean Brock, Curtis Duffy and Jonathan Ory, who have a few decades combined experience in fine dining restaurants, not to mention some Michelin stars and James Beard nods. Does that count?
“You’re the toxin. You’re why the good cooks are vanishing before our eyes. You’re the [one] who needs to get the fuck out of our business.”
In the month of February alone three (3) different chef/owners have taken their own lives. And those are just the ones I know about. I’d say that the issues I’m trying to bring to light are much more perilous to the industry than I personally am.
“What kitchens have you cooked in? What fine dining chefs have you worked under?”
1. My own. (I’m thinking about making some eggs—want any?)
2. None, but if a chef with the stature of Benoît Violier can succumb to the pressures of the business, I get the sense that it’s at enough of a crisis point that the rest of us can talk about it. Ain’t no restaurants without diners, so I figure we can be part of the solution.
“Who the fuck do you think you are to judge or commentate on anyone in the back of house?”
If you take a moment to read or listen to what I’ve said on the site or in interviews, you’ll hear that I’m not judging a soul or telling anyone they have to change. What I want to do is use the survey results (they’re currently being analyzed by a psychologist who works with The Heirloom Foundation) so we’ll have definitive evidence of the mental health crisis in the industry, and can more effectively seek backing for resources to benefit the people who need it.
I’d never dream of telling anyone that they have to change their behavior or their kitchen culture. That’s not my place or my intent, and if you knew me in real life, you’d know that I’m waaaayyyyyy laissez-faire about how folks get their particular ya-yas out. (There’s a reason Las Vegas and New Orleans are my favorite cities.)
But there are an awful lot of people in your industry who are in suffering and don’t see a way out. They’re afraid to speak out for fear of being thought of as weak (69.8% of them), crazy (51.7%) or even losing their jobs. And if they did want to seek help, very few people have the money, time and access to it. So they self-medicate in all different ways that may make the problem even worse.
And 91.4% of the 1000+ people who weighed in say that their emotional issues are tied in some degree to their profession. Folks at all levels of the profession are losing their lives—three just this month—and those are only the ones we know about.
So I have this wacky notion that:
1. If nothing else, it helps to know that you’re not the only one out there feeling this way. Could be the executive chef, line cook, GM, expediter, garde manger, busser or bartender. But there’s someone else in your life suffering through the same thing.
2. It’d be great if people had access to counseling that was either free or close to it, and if it could be from people who are familiar with the challenges of the industry, that’d be even better. Could be a hotline that’s available when they get out of service in the wee small hours and don’t have a whole lot of healthy options at the ready—where maybe another chef who’s been there can pick up the phone and talk them through it. Might be a group of restaurant workers that meets before or after hours to talk through things and have each other’s backs with no judgment.
3. If there’s enough momentum, possibly some major restaurant groups could find resources to offer in-house counseling, vouchers for counseling or insurance that provides mental health benefits. And maybe that could become the norm.
But that’s just crazy talk, huh? Why should anyone listen to me? (Except that they seem to be doing just that.)
“You’ve probably only peeled potatoes in your house, bitch.”
I tend to leave the skin on, but that’s a personal preference.
“Stop trying to make money and press on people who make nothing to begin with.”
Making money? Not so much. I’m spending my own time and cash on this and if it all works how I hope it will, the cooks and servers who need resources will get them free of charge. The press actually takes a lot of time that frankly, I can’t spare right now because I’m on a book deadline and have actual paying work to do as well, but it’s important, so I do it.
But if you are talking about the Google ad unit on the right site, it’s earned $.12 since it went live last month. I’ll happily buy you a Tic-Tac with that, but I was planning on donating anything that accrues to the foundations on the Resources page. Your call.
“I hope you get hit by a fucking car.”
I’ll look both ways before I cross the street.
“- from a cook”
If you end up at any point deciding that you need help, it’s here for you, too. Again, those resources are right here.