Ryan Daniels, Executive Chef of Fiddlesticks CC, hopes to inspire club and resort chefs to take a much needed moment to evaluate and improve their mental health.
Before you read any further, I must disclose that I have never—nor will ever—claim to be a psychologist or an expert on human behavior.
I’m simply an experienced club chef who has encountered individuals from many walks of life, and learned to develop and build relationships while gaining friendships. I also have the developed the ability to observe and understand things on many different levels.
Below is my perspective on why I think many chefs suffer from addiction and depression.
First, we face a demanding schedule with a near-perfect performance standard. As a true chef, a “normal” day consists of 10-16 hours on our feet, sometimes more. We constantly multitask, plan ahead, problem-solve, and ensure each task is completed with the utmost attention to detail. We do all this while receiving feedback from irrational members and guests in highly variable and subjective situations.
Our work environment is usually crammed, loud, and hot. There’s rarely any natural light. And we’re constantly worried that our line cooks and dishwashers will show up and not find themselves in jail.
We develop a daily plan for the countless reservations we are about to cook for all while ensuring our labor, food cost and other budgeted line items are where they should be. And let’s not forget that we are also ensuring orders for the next day are being placed and are accurate and that the multiple purveyors we work with are not going to short us or send us any sub-par products.
These are only some of the daily thoughts that go through our minds as we try to continuously improve ourselves as well as motivate our brigades to ensure each service is flawless.
So when I ask myself, why is addiction so prevalent in our industry and why is the depression rate higher than most any other professions I can start to see some trends.
From the most obvious standpoint, we work long hours on our feet around type-A personalities. We look for an edge to help our creativity, or allow us to work long hours without slowing down. And we deal with members and guests who, as of recent thanks to the food network, have become experts on food and cooking.
But food is extremely subjective. And so we face constant change to our visions and dishes. We pour countless hours into preparing and balancing each and every bit, just to have a customer modify the hell out of it or try to dissect each component instead of understanding that when the flavors and textures are eaten together, it is perfectly balanced—at least in our own mind’s eye.
You all know this stress and anxiety. And nearly all of us know how to escape. Some days we need more of an escape than others, but each day is different. Most of us try to create a plan for the following day before we leave the club but, as most of us know, that plan rarely goes as intended. And on top of the plan, changing the number of tasks that are competed in a day’s work are countless.
But every time we complete a task we experience a small rush of dopamine. We feel good. In my very unprofessional opinion, I can only imagine the amount of dopamine our bodies produce throughout our day as we cross off tasks and move on to the next all while successfully completing a busy dinner service.
But what happens when we leave the kitchen and head homes. The dopamine wears off. The multitasking subsides. The troubleshooting and problem-solving is put on hold. But we are still riding the high of an exhausting and exhilarating day. Is this the reason we head to the bar for “just a few beers” or participate in illegal drug use or head to the casino to blow off some steam? Are we trying to continue that dopamine rush? And what happens when we can’t? Do we crash?
In my humble opinion, over the past ten years or so, chefs have done a far better job of understanding the importance of the work-life balance. We have substituted unhealthy coping habits with exercise, yoga, running and other activities that stimulate our brains and bodies to help us deal with the countless pressures we take on. We are better equipped to approach our days with an open mindset, a philosophy to effect change and develop cultures in our kitchens that are team driven and positive.
Even so, addiction and depression are still very serious issues that many of us struggle with. I encourage you to take a minute and evaluate your own mindset. Find healthy escapes and lean on people who you trust to carry you through the rough spots. Mental health is a serious subject. Please don’t take it lightly.