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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On the Radio: The Front Burner

The Front Burner Podcast

“Mental illness, psychological disorders, and substance abuse have been a part of the DNA of professional kitchens for generations. Often glamorized or joked about, and just as often swept under the runners, they are rarely taken head-on for the serious challenge they represent to both individuals and the industry. Writer and Tasting Table Editor at-Large Kat Kinsman (author of the forthcoming Hi, Anxiety) has launched the “Chefs with Issues” project, founded on an online survey for food professionals, to tackle this subject. Kat joins Jimmy and Andrew to talk about the project and the observations it has yielded to date, along with chefs Frank Crispo (of NYC’s Crispo and an industry veteran) and Jesse Schenker (of NYC’s Recette and The Gander), who wrote about his own struggles with many of these issues in his memoir All or Nothing. All that plus the week’s headlines.”

Listen to the episode on Heritage Radio Network

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The front burner

“For me, being in the kitchen was like taking a Xanax. I finally had an outlet for all of the emotions that were too uncomfortable for me to really feel. I had never known what to do with those feelings. In the kitchen I had a sense of freedom and space and, most important, order and clarity. It was the only time the restlessness within me subsided.”
—from Jesse Schenker’s memoir “All or Nothing: One Chef’s Appetite for the Extreme

I’ll be live on Andrew Friedman and Jimmy Bradley’s new show “The Front Burner” on Heritage Radio on Thursday, January 14 at 11 ET, along with the afore-quoted chef and author Jesse Schenker and chef Frank Crispo. We’ll be talking about mental health, the food world, and what could and/or should be done to address the crisis. Listen live or download the podcast afterward.

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