Anyone who has worked in the industry knows how difficult the job can be. Long hours, stressful service, hot work environment and all that combined with a pursuit for perfection make for a pretty demanding life.
In recent months people have spoken out about how the kitchen work environment needs to be changed, we looked at the sustainability of the actual chef and a number of professionals have spoken out about how the culture of working in restaurants needs to change, Eric Ripert most recently.
However, Paterson has done so in such a frank and honest way that it really hits home. It’s something anyone working in the industry should read and something that will resonate with most.
“I mean, how many chefs you think are depressed, anyway? Like 95%?”
This is the question posed by Patterson before he recounts his own problems working in what is a highly pressurised industry.
“Cooking – obsessively, to the exclusion of everything else – was a way to hide. When I started cooking, kitchens were environments that accepted, and to some degree encouraged, aberrant behaviour. The temper tantrums and compulsive work habits were seen as a positive sign of professional dedication. My efforts were rewarded, night after night, with happy guests. I tied my happiness firmly to my professional success, so I did not have to take responsibility for that gaping void where my sense of self-worth should have been. And I found that cooking was a non-verbal language that I spoke fluently, where I could communicate in an open, loving and vulnerable way from the safe remove of a distant kitchen, without having to deal with actual people.”
It shouldn’t be a shock to hear such a successful chef and leader speak about struggling with depression, just this year a study published by the Southern Medical University in Guongzhou, China, showed that restaurant serving can be one of the most stressful jobs in the world. What Patterson says should be shocking is the lack of discussion taking place around the issue.
“The fact that we can’t talk about depression without personal judgment amplifies its effects. We have sympathy for someone with cancer, but mental illness prompts feelings of revulsion and derision.
“For chefs – the people who work through burns and cuts and sickness – talking about mental illness is taboo, a sign of weakness. We don’t seek help when we should, which causes decades and sometimes a lifetime of unnecessary misery. This I know.”
It’s a well written, first hand account of overcoming a problem many people face and it’s about time the conversation was open. Head over to MAD to read the full article.