Torn. A dialogue about mental health in the hospitality industry.

We lost another kind soul in the Chef family yesterday, and it’s left me with a mix of emotions. This person that I barely knew, and only got to work with one night, one epic shift, I felt a connection with. As a chef you know the dance of the kitchen. You become synchronized with the people you work with, working with each other flawlessly over time, and getting to really know each other inside and out. Unfortunately often what’s left unsaid is what really needs to be heard.

In the 12 years I worked in the industry, the big questions were rarely asked, if ever. Questions of how someone is really doing. Often we assume everyone is okay, and try not to let ourselves become vulnerable in fear of others opinions. After all, our ego wants us to make everyone else think we’re fine, and beyond that, we’re great and probably doing better than them. You may not think that you fall into that category but trust me, we all do. This isn’t always something we consciously think, our egos are really great at hiding and justifying our actions and thought patterns.

The field for a chef is thick, and hard to work in. Our passion let’s our jobs take over our lives, and balance is nearly impossible for most. This often leads to broken relationships, substance abuse, physical-neglect, and poor mental hygiene. It’s a double edged sword and leaves you torn. The passion keeps you going, and empowers you to become better and better at your job. You teach new hires, learn new techniques, read new books, invest in new tools, meanwhile everything else falls to the wayside. Also, it’s not just chefs in this field, this goes for all the people that make a restaurants wheels turn. Each one is vital, in just speaking on behalf of the experiences that I have personally.

Its not like that for all chefs. In fact I recently interviewed one of my best friends, whom I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years, and he felt almost the opposite. If it weren’t for the kitchen, he wouldn’t feel balance, and right now he’s having a tough time being away from his “home.”

The point is, we need to talk. An open dialogue needs to become a reality in the restaurant industry. We need to pick each other up, check in, and really talk about how we feel. We are so entangled in making sure the guests are taken care of, that we do not take care of ourselves.

To do my part and try my best to make even a small difference, I’m going to do a series of interviews specific to this industry. We’re going to really talk, get it all out on the table, and show people they aren’t alone in how they feel. In the hopes that someone out there gets the message, and we can feel some unity.

I’m also going to do a series of designs, and an entire line of clothing on my website devoted to chefs, and others in the hospitality industry. I’m still working on where but I will be donating all of the profits from this line to a charity. I’m in the process of getting connected with Pilot Light, a campaign designed to change the way people think and act about mental health in the hospitality industry.

Together we can make a difference.