Self Care For The Culinary Professional

Service industries- especially the hospitality/culinary industry- are some of the most grueling and exhausting jobs in the world. There are certainly jobs that are tougher physically and come with a higher body count (linemen, miners, lumberjacks, etc), but jobs in the service industry don’t just exhaust you physically. Kitchen work absolutely puts your mind and soul through the wringer as well, leaving many of us exhausted and burned out- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

In order to survive, we cooks have any number of coping mechanisms and habits- drugs and alcohol, unfortunately, being the most famous ones. More and more of us, however, are looking to better and healthier ways to look after our bodies and minds away from the rigors of the kitchen. The lifestyle changes of high-profile chefs like Greg Gourdet, Gabriel Rucker, and the owners of Joe Beef have signaled a change in the “work hard, party harder” atmosphere of the professional kitchen, and cooks- greenhorns and old hands alike- are starting to take their side work seriously.

It’s hard as hell, and the easiest thing in the world. Here’s a few things I’ve learned.

Animated GIF from the movie Ratatouille of the cook pumping his fist and saying "Let's do this thing!"
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The Shape of My Demons

It’s okay not to be okay. Especially right now.

For the last few years, anyone with anxiety has been tweaking pretty constantly- including me. The uncertainty and chaos in the world (particularly in the US) has provided almost an ambient level of background fear and disquiet.

Then the pandemic hitthen the protests... and now there are massive forest fires blanketing the West Coast in a dirty orange haze of smoke and ash. My wife and I are fine for right now, but if the pandemic wasn’t already giving us cabin fever, choking on the air as soon as we walk outside surely will.

For the last 7 years or so, exercise has been the outlet for my stress and anxiety. Running, especially- the feeling of constant motion, cold air in my lungs, the smell of trees and leaves revitalizes me. And there’s always the “Zone-” the space in a run where your mind blanks and everything goes quiet. You move down an endless trail- your brain falls silent, your train of thought stalls, and all you need to do to maintain this perfect bliss is just keep moving.

It helped keep my demons asleep… but now I can’t go running. Not without feeling like I chainsmoked an entire tobacco plantation. I’m stuck indoors for the time being- and my demons are still there with me.

A person sits against a concrete wall with their arms on their knees and their head down. They are barefoot on a concrete floor.
Photo by Pixabay on
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The Numbs

I wandered into the living room and sat cross-legged on the floor, my back against the filing cabinet with our TV on it. We had gotten the TV for free, but neither of us watched it much, except for in-home movie nights. Em was crashed out on our couch, listening to podcasts and booping at a game on her phone.

“It’s been so weird,” I said, as Cleo wandered up and batted curiously at the strings on my hoodie. “Ever since last Thursday, I’ve just felt so numb. Like I’m stuck in a bubble and floating through the world.”

Em paused for a minute and thought. “You know how the Stages of Grief can apply to more than just people dying? Like they can apply to any sudden change in life? It sounds like you’re in the denial stage.”

Cleo has given up trying to eat my clothing and instead curls up in my lap, presenting her chin for scratches. I oblige and raise an eyebrow toward Em. “Okay… What am I grieving over then?”

”The fact that, as healthy as you have lived, and as much care as you’ve taken of your body- all the effort to get healthy and fit- you can still get sick from something you never saw coming.”

Young man on a park bench   Seated with his head in his hands, face down.
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86 the Normal

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

The weather this weekend could have been better- cloudy, muggy, windy, rainy. No good for going out and doing much, which made it picture perfect for my days off.

See, lately, I’ve been on a big kick of not trying to do something every fucking minute. With the parade of nightmares, hatred, anger, righteous rage, and natural disasters happening outside my little corner- as often as I poke my head out to try and do some good, I want to spend some time remembering what still IS good. The “eternal verities” of a culinary life.

Everyone wants to “return to normal”- the pandemic to go away, hurricane season to pass, and the protesters to shut up and go home (after November 2016, I’ve learned that the people screaming and begging for “peace” tend to actually mean “peace and quiet.”)
Here’s the problem, though- that “normal” wasn’t working as well as you think it was. It won’t come back. It can’t, and if we’re being honest, it probably shouldn’t.

The end of the day at Saint Honore in Portland Oregon
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