When the Kitchen Gets Too Hot

By on June 13, 2018

Anthony Bourdain’s passionate life and tragic death should force dialogue about mental health
in the culinary world

Anthony Bourdain’s death has jolted people in the culinary world and beyond. (PHOTO: Trey Ratcliff)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – It wasn’t just the culinary community that lost one if its great denizens on June 8, but the world at large. Anthony Bourdain broke down the barrier dividing chef and patron. He brought people to the far reaches of the globe while contemplating culture and civilization through his understanding of the human condition and food.  

“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly,” Bourdain wrote in his book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. “Misses of garlic is a crime…please, treat your garlic with respect…Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”  

These words exemplify his approachable, raw mentality toward food. It was his first love, his saving grace.

Bourdain overcame severe heroin and cocaine addictions and found new ways to live on the edge with food, adventure and travel. After he got clean, he continued his work in kitchens, where the chef circuit is built of misfits. A regimented 9-5 desk job simply would not do.

Now, after seeing so much life through the eyes of Bourdain, who pushed the boundaries between food, politics and humanity with his program Parts Unknown, we must ponder his death.

Bourdain’s suicide should force folks in the culinary sphere to look inward. In the kitchen—Bourdain’s milieu—there’s a guaranteed adrenaline fix. From the first ticket at service, it’s game on; with the cacophony of clanging pans, screaming fire, and shouting, the excitement and exhaustion felt at the end of a shift is inimitable.  

And when it’s all said and done, us kitchen folk are set loose for the night, minds ablaze while half the world sleeps. It is a cruel, isolating job in this way, one that can deepen a person’s proclivity to abuse alcohol or drugs. It can also magnify feelings of depression and loneliness.   

Addiction and depression are indeed pervasive in the culinary industry. With the high-stress and interminable hours that come with the job, it’s no surprise people’s mental health often suffers.

So as we glean inspiration from some of Bourdain’s words, let us also take more time to be kind to ourselves and to each other, to ask for help and to listen to those who need it.

Sometimes that could mean removing ourselves from our spheres and seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, someone who is suffering or someone who wants to listen.

For his part, Bourdain was on a constant journey to understand other perspectives.

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move,” Bourdain said. “As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody…Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

About Helen Goelet

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