I have been working In the hospitality business for over 35 years now.
After failing drastically at high school level I found a job washing dishes in a small Bistro in the Netherlands. The owner of that little place became my mentor and is still a very good friend of mine.
When I started cooking there was nothing glamorous about the job; You could become a brick layer, carpenter, or truck driver, it was all on the same level. Although this industry comes with extremely long hours, work stress and often verbal abuse by senior chefs, I loved the camaraderie in the kitchens.
Very, very often the whole team would go out after work, get wasted, do most of the things that god has forbidden, just to wake up with a hangover just in time for the next shift. I lost many good friends, and great relations died, because they couldn’t cope with my new-found life style.
Food channel changed the way people looked at Chefs and chef live’s and when that channel became a success, hundreds of cooking shows, competitions and magazines followed. All of a sudden you had Chefs with rock star status.
Although some of the food shows are fun to watch and at times inspirational, I think there was only one ‘celebrity chef’ that the professional working chef’s, the ones holding the hot line under extreme pressure every night, could really identify with. Anthony Bourdain, the non glamorous, non polished, no bullshit guy with his love for sex & drugs, the Ramones and of course food, was the TV chef that all of us wouldn’t mind to work a shift with or drink a beer with.
He decided to take his life a few days ago. It is amazing to see the outpour among colleague chefs who truly feel they lost a buddy. It is also amazing and scary to find out how many people in our industry have dealt with depressive and suicidal colleagues. The divorce rate in this industry is stunning and It is no secret that alcohol and drug abuse is extremely high within kitchen staff all around the globe.
I have a first hand, very sad, recent experience where one of my sous chefs, a young guy, decided to end his life on Christmas eve. I have seen many other good guys and gals break down in different ways over the years.
Depression is an ugly beast, and very often, still not recognized as a true disease. We chefs will have to watch out for each other. No matter how passionate you are about your profession — No job is worth losing your happiness or life over.