Category Archives: Essential Reading

A chef speaks: On suicide and the industry

Clark Barlowe is the executive chef-owner of Heirloom restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. He recently wrote a blog post called “Suicide in the Culinary Industry” and it’s worth your time. An excerpt:

“If you had asked me two years ago what my reaction would be to an iconic chef’s suicide, I honestly don’t know how I would have answered you. Most likely I would have read the articles, compartmentalized the issue and gone on with my day. I have learned that relationships make us who we are however, and my partner is a PhD student who researches mental health promotion and substance abuse prevention, as well as suicide prevention. For this reason, I had a different reaction while reading the news surrounding Chef Violier’s death. I grieved for the loss, but I also tried to understand the issue.

Suicide is complex; we should not try to fit it in to a neat box to make ourselves feel comfortable with the situation. We have to embrace the uncomfortable nature of the issue we are dealing with, as well as understand that this issue cannot be normalized to the point we feel we don’t need to discuss it. We should be comfortable with this embracement of the uncomfortable- we do this to ourselves daily: staff, product, customers, all of these variables have the opportunity to make us uncomfortable on any given day, yet we are equipped to deal with them. Let’s use this situation as an opportunity to equip ourselves with a new set of skills that include open communication and understanding of our peers and then use that to affect broader societal change.

Chefs have become known as activists in the world wide community, but we have forgotten to nurture our own. We are a culture that cares deeply about the projects and ideals we are passionate about, and are generous with our time and resources when it comes to supporting them. We work with non-profits on what seems to be a daily basis, we take up causes we believe strongly in, most of which expectedly revolve around food, even when it seems our time is limited at best. We are now confronted with an issue that transcends our industry and it falls to a culture such as ours to provide an example of how to grasp it.”

Read the rest on Heirloom’s website.

On “kamikaze culture” in the kitchen

“Everything starts at the top, so management is understanding that, for the rest of the business to function well, you need to set an example for your team. Even though I can get mean at work, it’s way less obscene and disgusting than things have been. I’m trying to create something healthy for my cooks, and also for me. The way restaurants have been, historically, is that killing yourself is considered admirable. It’s a kamikaze, basically — what are you doing?”—Angela Dimayuga, executive chef of Mission Chinese Food

Read the rest in “One of NYC’s Most Talented Chefs Wants to Fix ‘Kamikaze’ Kitchen Culture” on Grub Street.

Today’s essential reading

“The pressure cooker environment of kitchen work isn’t new. Sadly, neither is the sweep-it-under-the-rug approach that prevails when mental health issues arise in back of house staff. Kitchen employees are often in unconventional arrangements, lacking the union protection or benefits typically found in manufacturing or office jobs. Even with benefits, the stigma of poor mental health prevents kitchen workers from asking for help.”—Putting Mental Health on the Menu by Mary Luz Mejia for TVO.org

Plenty more articles, sites and books right here.