Speak Up

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I had no idea how many wives and girlfriends were concerned about their chef's emotional well being. When I posted the last entry I expected advice to come flooding in from you all, but instead I learned that run down, worn out, depressed chefs are more common that I thought. After reading all of the comments it seems like most of these men are suffering from exhaustion. Keep in mind that I don't know any of these people, only what has been shared with us on this blog. But I do think that depression is a characteristic of over worked chefs that no one is interested in writing about. We've read all about chefs and how much they love to eat and drink after hours. They've been called womanizers and drug addicts and their lives have been glamorized as such. But behind the closed doors of our homes, these chefs are struggling to become something great and make a living to support themselves and loved ones all while cooking, prepping, hiring, firing, ordering and receiving.

My advice? Well, I'm not an expert but I do have a perspective that I think might help some. I think there are some questions that need to be asked. For instance, is there a purpose to all of the work? Line cooks and even sous chefs will work very hard, but if the goal is to become an executive chef and work up through the ranks of a restaurant, then keep at it. There will come a time when the long nights get slightly shorter and the payoff will come. But if the goal is to cook and go home, then there is no reason to work in an environment that isn't conducive to a healthy emotional life. Also, who is training your chef? If these men are working under a 4 star executive chef with a lot of knowledge available, then keep at it. But working under a chef that isn't willing to train and guide isn't worth any sort of heartache or pain.

Talk to your chefs. Tell them how worried and scared you are that they are too overworked to enjoy life. I know my concerns often come out as nagging, so I have to work very hard to make sure that I express myself in a loving way-not an angry way. And let me tell you-I'm still working on it.

Food is Love,


Louise said...

I love that you said the following:

"They've been called womanizers and drug addicts and their lives have been glamorized as such. But behind the closed doors of our homes, these chefs are struggling to become something great and make a living to support themselves and loved ones all while cooking, prepping, hiring, firing, ordering and receiving"

Because thats what my impression was and then I actually became involved with a chef and its not like that at all, I mean I'm sure its like that for some, but not the one I'm involved with.

I absolutely love this blog because up until recently I thought I was the only one with these feelings (the good & bad) and its so great to know other women out there understand and have gone through similar things. Thanks Hilary


Anonymous said...

I love this blog my hubby is fairly new to the business he has been out of culinary school for about 2 years he is one of those who is busting his but to move up and has a great desire to learn, sadly he always seems to get employed by flaky owners the present owner gets drunk every dinner service and is very unprofessional my hubby stay because the chef he is working under takes great pride in teaching his cooks so my hubby stay. He works very long hours comes home sleeps and starts again. We just had our 7th baby I know he get depressed mostly because he misses us so much. I think I have a harder time dealing with depression being home with the kids I am so proud of him considering what he has had to overcome to get where he is now, but I miss me. I try to be supportive and at times I don't understand why he works so hard for a owner who is so not worth it. Sorry hope I didn't get to off topic keep writing I love your blog

Anonymous said...

Tough call. I am defenitely the nagging type and but my told my chef a few years ago that it's me or the kitchen. I could not bear it any longer to watch him ruin his physical and mental health any longer.

He opted for the kitchen at first, we broke up, but then he somehow did some thinking and quit his job. We got back together eventually.

It was a very hard time, and it took long for him to find a decent job that works for both of us and does not mean frying burgers in a canteen. But he did eventually and everything is fine now.

Of course there's always something, life's never perfect, but he seems a lot happier now.

We'll that's our story. Wouldn't go as far as saying advice. I just knew back then that we'd never be happy that way and would rather cut my losses and leave.

DCW Jes said...

hahah....sorry i have to laugh because as a recovering alcoholic dating a chef, i hear that they were drug addicts and partiers all the time. i wouldnt be with my chef at all if he was like that. i had someone at an aa meeting ask me if it was hard to date a chef because of that. i think it goes along the lines of poor stereotypes. i dated a truck driver a few years back, he wasnt a partier and he only cheated on me....at home!! so i dont follow these stereo types about people at all. lately, things have been stressful for me and my chef has been very supportive, i lost my job yesterday and he calls me at least twice a day even though he works doubles 5-6 days a week, i completely understand this. he is a great executive chef and i am grateful that he isnt a bad chef as far as training.

ps...hilary, my computer broke! i miss reading your blog and such...if you can email me? or anyone else, i can check them from my phone as long as there is no html in them, my email address is jade_design@hotmail.com

Hilary Battes said...

I'd be happy to email you, Jade. And I agree that addictions are everywhere, cheating is everywhere and so is depression.

Kerilyn Russo said...

Truth is.. It's not about WHAT our other half is cooking.. or where we're eating..That's just feeding the standard persons view of our industry but what's happening inside. I'm pretty confident to say that our Chefs are very passionate people... like Brighten a room with their passion..but like most things.. there's always the good with the bad. It's not all hearts and flowers.. good food and VIP service.. Passion is what DRIVES them to do what they do But whats the opposite of Passion?... It's like a flashy sports car.. you can't have someone pushing full throttle on the gas.. without having a brake pedal.. It's about Balance. I mean come on.. there is a reason why there is a rumor about Drugs and Alcohol being prevalent in the Industry. Why is that? Because there is not an adequate amount of Balance in their lives. It's hard.. it's why we need to learn to lean on each other to help give our Significant other what they need.. and in return we will get what we need.

Chef's Widow said...

I must be honest, I have not seen that much depression in the restaurant industry. Exhaustion yes. Booze, drugs, yes. But depression no. Having been with a chef starting in his days as a sous all the way up to being a restaurant owner, I must tell you this. Working your way up does not make the exhaustion go away. Or the hours. Or the chaos. I know many chef, some very famous, some not, that still work their a**es off on the daily. It DOES not end. Especially for the Chef that is taking the independent path. It only gets worse and crazier. I am not trying to be negative, as I don't see these things as negative. I enjoy the craziness of our life. However I think that people should understand that this career is hard and tends to get harder the higher up the ladder the Chef climbs. xoxo

Hilary Battes said...

As far as the amount of pressure and work goes, Widow, I think things can go either way. Owning a restaurant will most certainly be more stressful than working for someone else. But I do know that working at the right place, the pressure can be much less. For instance, there are several large hotel groups that pay great union wages with union benefits, and overtime with major holidays off. Chefs and cooks there can have a great deal as long as that's the food and environment they're interested in. Then again, working up from a line cook to chef de cuisine through Jean Georges Erik had more pressure and responsibility as he was promoted, but also earned more 'perks' as he became recognized as a skilled chef. There is a time of paying dues- so to speak-that can be compared to slave labor, and for some the payoff in the end is worth, but for some it isn't. It all depends what the goals of individual cooks and chefs are.

DCW Jes said...

ugh, all this talk about exhaustion and depression makes me not wanna go to school. but i know that working in the restaurant industry, no matter what position, it can be depressing or exhausting. i was a waitress for the same restaurant for a year and a half and all that exhaustion and depression is now releasing. it doesnt matter what job you have, if you work for a company that makes poor choices just for the top dollar, it can create both of those things. i am glad i no longer work for a company who says that someone cant go home even if they have an illness. my job used to threaten me with having to have a doctor's note to try and entice me into coming in only because i didnt have insurance and they knew that. my chef has vacation time coming up and he hasnt had vacation in probably 5 years. i know that a lot of our problems in the relationship are from his exhaustion. i wouldnt say he is depressed, but he isnt always happy. i just hope that i can find a job where people are a little more caring and a little less about that top dollar and self-centered....

Anonymous said...

I found this site because I recently started dating a chef and I'm realizing it's a pretty unique experience. As for this post, adrenal fatigue is for sure going to happen to a chef working hours that are against nature. We're meant to wake and rest with the sun's up and down...so their bodies are being taxed daily. Looking into some holistic remedies, though they may not have an interest at first, would be helpful for adrenal support. I worked in a kitchen for just 3 months and burned out from the high level of anxiety and exhaustion. I'm still recovering 2 years later and have support of the adrenal supplements which help a TON. I'd recommend anyone who knows an exhausted chef to refer them to someone who can test their cortisol levels. It's really helpful!

- Diane