This is not O.K.
This is not OK.
It’s been an hour since I heard the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death. The range of emotions isn’t much of a range at all. I’m angry.
Generations of chefs are familiar with his writing and some even credit his descriptions of the kitchen as the driving force for them to pursue this line of work. Most notably, “kitchen confidential” gave an unfiltered look into the debauchery and drudgery associated with a life committed to cooking professionally. To be heralded as such a pivotal figure in literature, to launch so many careers in the world of culinary arts is a testament to just how fucked up we as chefs really are.
In recent years I would look back on this book with contempt to how he romanticized the lifestyle of a chef to that of a rockstar. It’s not the reality. For the majority of our careers, we suffer immensely to help realize someone else’s creative process. I’m sure John Lennon did not get berated for tuning a guitar imperfectly after spending 12 hours under incandescent lighting during his nephews christening. Did Springsteen finish his set on stage with a straight face after hearing about a death in the family? To be honest, I’m not sure. Probably not.
Bourdain elevated the role of chef to that of one that could be paraded around and celebrated. He is undoubtedly responsible for the sex appeal surrounding our proudest moments, our highest highs. Today however, we are forced to address the opposite end of the spectrum. The side where we spend the majority of our time. The sadness, the hopelessness. The struggle of low wages and mounting expenses. The dark bars on sunny days. The uncontrollable crying in the shower before heading in for our sixth consecutive 14 hour shift, which we'll complete to no fanfare.
I shake as I type this. Chefs are no stranger to depression. It's a thankless job. The thought of sweet relief streams through our minds constantly. We are tired and generally unable to get the rest we need. If you are looking at a restaurant worker who takes their profession serious chances are not only have they considered suicide at one time in their lives, chances are they have considered it within the past few days. Think about that. The more we care about our work, the more depressed we seem to become.
In 2003, after hearing only a rumor of losing his third Michelin star, celebrated French Chef Bernard Loisseau put a shotgun in his mouth. More recently, Chef Benout Violier also relieved himself of the Michelin stress in a similar fashion. We are no strangers to the thought of suicide, but Bourdain comes as quite a shock. Anthony Bourdain was found dead today in a hotel room in France. Early reports allege suicide as the cause. Being removed from the kitchen for quite some time, without the stress of Le Guide Rouge taking away a star which had been fought for a lifetime to achieve, his unknown(?), yet apparent depression is even more shocking to me.
The implications that his suicide will have on our industry are profound.
Sometimes that family isn’t enough.
Our profession demands longevity of body and clear cognitive thinking. The lack of either of these could result in not only a poorly executed job, but also an injury. It’s astonishing how we can be expected to work such long shifts under harsh conditions without some sort of mental deterioration. We find solace in drugs and alcohol until finally we don’t.
I write this today from a point in my life I never imagined I would be at. 18 months sober. How I got here is a story of its own but I break my anonymity in order to offer help. The goal of creating this brand was to do just that, help other professionals in the hospitality industry recover from addiction to drugs and alcohol. The death of Bourdain makes that goal more pressing now.
He was our symbol of hope. A man that had made it out of the kitchen, had been down the path of addiction and was actively recovering from the likes of hard drugs. Bourdain found success after years of struggling with addiction and did so through the help of others. No-one can do it alone.
I will say it again:
Nobody can do it alone.
Change needs to happen. Sure there are rituals for those who are able to responsibly enjoy the altering of their mind. But we must be more aware. Our profession rewards a fantastic dinner service and consoles one gone wrong in the same way, with drugs and alcohol. The necessary change I speak of is how we handle and address addiction and issues of mental health as an industry. It is a long shot (simply considering the time off a new mother is granted in the U.S., or the mental health support we offer our children), but what is the responsibility of a restaurant group when a valued employee comes forward with depression or addiction issues? How can we fight for that employee to get the treatment they need with assistance? Should mental health insurance be offered in addition to the health insurance already offered by companies?
It is difficult to address all of these issues in an industry already plagued with a myriad of others. It is important, now more than ever, to get this conversation started. The first thing we can do is be honest and caring with each other about the problem.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction talk to someone. TALK TO ME!
Suicide Prevention Hotlines: