From chef to chaos

Perhaps I’m dating myself, but some of you recall a network tagline from some years back before: “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” They were trying to further the freshness date on sitcoms rerun during the summer months, but I’ve since found it relevant in plenty of other applications.

For instance: this stunning, gut-wrenching story by Allecia Vermillion from March of last year. It lays bare the final years of Cody Spafford, a deeply talented sous chef at the Walrus and the Carpenter, who lost his life to a SWAT team, dispatched after he held up a Wells Fargo bank.

“[Renee Erickson] had just inklings of her young employee’s past: A few months into his job Cody got busted with some marijuana in Oregon. His criminal history meant he had to spend a few nights in jail. Once he returned, Cody told his bosses he wanted—needed—to be more responsible. How could you not root for an ambitious, hardworking kid eager to vanquish his demons and succeed?”

Continue reading From chef to chaos

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Health? Yeah.

Hi all. I’ve been traveling like mad this past week and haven’t had much downtime or internet access, but I’m plowing through the well over 600 survey responses and countless emails I’ve received and will be back in regular publishing action shortly.

Meanwhile, this week I spoke with chefs Seamus Mullen, George Mendes, Marco Canora and Jon Bonnell about the physical toll that chef life can take, the effect it has on their psyche and how they took control of their wellbeing. From my interviews:

Bonnell:

“There’s this strange deal in this industry where unhealthy habits are celebrated. Chefs are supposed to be fat and drink and smoke, maybe do some drugs and die in their 50s.”

Continue reading Health? Yeah.

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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.

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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.

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From the comments

“I’ve worked my way up and I am now an Executive Chef. I do everything I can to spare my staff the suffering, stress and pain both physical and emotional I went through. But I also have to put in 60++ hour weeks or suffer threats from my boss and constantly hear ‘that’s the job’ from the higher ups after I’ve put in more hours in front of the stoves than I had available to sleep month after month.

No one can keep up this pace but when I show signs of cracking mentally and physically, instead of support I get chewed out. I don’t drink or do drugs, but I can definitely understand the need to not have to be in this world by whatever means for whatever time you can.”

Here are a few resources for physical and mental support.

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