The passing of internationally acclaimed chef Anthony Bourdain raises more questions than answers. Discussion forums are pointing the finger squarely at the food industry for feeding and increasing the rate of suicides and depression.
Commercial kitchens are gritty, pressure cooker environments that aren’t for the faint-hearted.
That is unlikely to change, or is it? Long shifts, low wages, adrenaline highs during a full service, military brigade action and duress, the satisfaction of successfully handing the last meal over the pass and doing it again day after day.
Anthony Bourdain got out of the kitchen and carved a successful career pursuing his global food passions — so why? It’s known his past was troubled with alcohol and drugs which some say are a legacy of coping mechanisms often needed as a chef — an easy to obtain solution to come down off the adrenaline high of a 12 hour shift of fast and furious service, night after night.
Change for any industry must begin from within — I’ve identified 3 ideas that I believe can instigate change. They aren't perfect but it's a start.
To squeeze out the highest level of performance, a constructive and supportive leadership style in the commercial kitchen is a critical component. Developing a positive and productive team culture gives people a feeling of belonging to a supportive structure.
Strong and direct instruction of tasks will always be necessary during service to get the job done fast. It doesn’t need to be abusive. The instructions are to direct the task, not to assassinate the individual.
However, the leaders of kitchens can take the time after service to celebrate the team’s successes and mentor on their shortcomings while looking for signs of distress in individuals.
We are struggling to entice the next generation of chefs. They don’t like the culture, so they leave, which is sending a clear message to the industry. Those that are staying on have a new leadership style. The screaming, abusive chefs are phasing out. Fair Work laws have reduced humiliating and dangerous initiation pranks on apprentices.
The millennials are influencing positive change and they don’t even know it
Organisation is critical for a team’s success and satisfaction during kitchen service. Without it there is chaos. Chaos creates stress and confusion which inflames aggression, blame and self-doubt. Self-doubt feeds a need for self-medicating comfort (alcohol) which aggravates triggers for depression. Commercial kitchens need strict military precision to deliver to the demands of the customer. Fix your operation to bring calm to your team before it spirals out of control.
It’s only a question and it’s easy. Make the culture of your business an open communication environment where it’s ok to ask for help with ANYTHING. This creates a pattern of ‘asking’. Whether it’s how to set the combi-oven or how to cope with not sleeping, everyone needs to feel comfortable in ‘asking’ without retribution. Every time someone asks a question about anything, it’s an opportunity to teach and mentor and improve self-worth.
In an open-communication culture it’s easier to ask for help. If you aren’t in that culture, ask anyway. Keep asking until you get the support you need. If someone asks you for help, give your time and listen to understand. If you can help, great, if not then be the caring listener.
Offering to help others opens up communication channels that it’s ok to accept help for ANYTHING. Offer help and mean it.
Giving and receiving help is not a weakness.
These 3 ideas alone will contribute to improved employee engagement and self-worth. They can be applied to any industry.
If you can change just one thing in your kitchen to help reduce depression, then you are an instigator of global change.
Are you starting a food business or renovating your commercial kitchen? Contact our experienced foodservice designers. We’ll help create an efficient and safe work environment for your kitchen crew.