As the tributes poured in after the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, many questions also arose. Those questions have spanned from how could somebody who had it all have such a dark side, to the challenges of the restaurant and foodservice industry and the kitchen stress it can create, that Bourdain left behind.
Bourdain is being fondly remembered by both the Metro New York foodservice community and chefs/restaurateurs from around the world. In many ways, his book Kitchen Confidential turned the Manhattan restaurant scene into an industry that so many wanted to be a part of. “His book [Kitchen Confidential] made people want to cook and his television shows inspired them to travel,” commented culinary author Andrew Friedman.
The Bourdain suicide has brought increased scrutiny to the pressures of life in the restaurant industry and kitchen stress. The late chef’s insight while serving as an inspiration will now also shed a new light on life on a cooking line and the kitchen stress that accompanies the lifestyle.
The Bourdain events also warrant looking back at similar tragedies that shocked the restaurant industry. In 2016, highly acclaimed French-born chef Benoît Violier committed suicide only two months after his establishment Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville was designated ‘best restaurant in the world’ by many industry critics. In 2015, innovative Chicago chef Homaro Cantu took his life at a brewery he was building. And in 2003, celebrated French chef Bernard Loiseau was widely believed to have committed suicide over the stress of his restaurant potentially losing its third Michelin star. What drove these industry standouts to the edge baffled family and fans alike.
It’s rather ironic that Bourdain had in fact built a life that took him out of the kitchen. There are those who have chronicled his life over the past week that have pointed to the on-going mental side that in fact followed him from a life behind an oven full of kitchen stress to a booming career in front of a camera.
“He was a friendly, supportive soul who stood up for those with less power than he had and tried to make the world a little better where he could,” Friedman, the author of Chefs, Drugs and Rock and Roll, continued. “I don’t think I’ve ever known another person so unspoiled by such mind-boggling fame. Thousands of Instagram posts over the last few days show him with acquaintances and strangers, and always in the moment, not flashing the rehearsed smile every celebrity has mastered, but just sharing an encounter with another human being. For me, that’s what made him so special and why I’m so crushed.”
One of the other nagging questions in looking at these cases is how impactful was the mental and emotional wear and tear that chefs and other foodservice workers absorb on a daily basis. Chefs are effectively working to a constant stream of tight deadlines while trying to remain safe and organized in a confined and hazardous environment. Kitchen stress and anxiety in chefs also generates high blood pressure and leads to suffering illnesses as a result of their long hours. Indirectly, chefs can get overwhelmed and develop other health problems based on how they choose to unwind and relax between shifts or at the end of the working day.
TFS sought out the thoughts of a mental health professional to shed light on how the stress issues impact the restaurant and foodservice industry. Dr. John Grohol is the founder & CEO of Psych Central. As an author, researcher and expert in mental health with over 25 years of experience, Grohol discovered a relatively large amount of substance abuse among trainee chefs, as they attempted to deal with kitchen stress. Grohol cited drugs and alcohol among the substances abused by chefs, but smoking cigarettes is also extremely common in the restaurant trade.
“For a long time smoking has provided an opportunity for chefs and culinary staffs to step out of a stifling kitchen during and between breaks,” Grohol explained. “However not only does it make them less receptive to taste, it can also have severe health effects including lung disease.”
Kitchen stress also creates a work pattern that can also have psychological effects on chefs, as they miss out on social activities due to work and can become isolated from friends and family due to the antisocial hours during which they work. Evenings off are therefore extremely important to well-being and battling kitchen stress.
Bourdain’s legacy will live forever with his countless hours of entertaining TV fare and his writings. “Thousands of Instagram posts over the last few days show Bourdain with acquaintances and strangers, and always in the moment, not flashing the rehearsed smile every celebrity has mastered, but just sharing an encounter with another human being,” Friedman concluded. “For me, that’s what made him so special.”