Benoit Violier committed suicide and many people have nothing but questions. I have questions too. Where did you find the inspiration? How does it feel to reach that level? The only question I don’t want to ask is, “Why?”
Please don’t think this is saying that I completely understand or accept such an action. I however can see how this can happen. As chef’s we often times are exposed to such highs and lows that sometimes it is very difficult to adjust or to address these changes. We don’t often times take time off when we need it. We take time off when we can.
Working in resorts and having lost a job, time off came to me in the form of unemployment. I worked in one facility where I was actually texted by my boss on the day of my wife’s C-section, my daughter’s birth, and asked to call in to make sure that the kitchen was doing all right. After 12+ hour shifts, often times alcohol, or drugs for the even unluckier masses, becomes the solace and respite of existence.
We are an artistic and eccentric bunch yet champions of science if you really look at it. We are individuals who are constantly facing a battle between the left and the right brain. We know what we want to accomplish and we have to fight to find a way to make it happen. This might be one way to oversimplify one of the inner struggles that chef’s face, but it does exist.
Many chefs that I know also traveled long paths before they settled on cooking. I was a zoology major turned English major, with a film specialization and a theatre minor, before I wised up, dropped out, and went to culinary school. I was afraid to step foot in a kitchen for the rest of my life. I thought it would only push me to hate food. At that point in my life, food was the only thing that I could count on. I know that food is not love. Don’t get it twisted, but I loved food.
Many people will never understand being a chef as career, and neither will I. It isn’t a career. It’s also not a job. Anyone who walks into it thinking either of these thoughts is kidding himself or herself. Food is a passion. I am not trying to romanticize what I do. A career is something that you prepare for to offer stability to your life. Life in a restaurant is not stable. A job is something that you do just for money. If you walk into a restaurant with either of these perspectives you will either fail or go nowhere.
Chef Dan Hugelier, Certified Master Chef and instructor, used to refer to himself as “one bad dude of food from Detroit.” These aren’t the words of someone with a job or a career. This is someone who has passion. Chef Gary Kucy, chef at Rupert’s and 2013 James Beard nominee, traveled the world as a chef for Mark Miller as he carried the banner for southwestern regional cuisine. Once again, jobs and careers don’t have you doing stints in Singapore, Mexico, New York, and other cities. This is the movement of someone with passion.
I have lost friends to the chef life. Some friendships have faded due to disagreements. Some friends can barely be reached as they have traveled to other corners of the world. I even lost one friend to the baggage of being, or at least trying to be, a chef as he passed before he had ever reached the title.
It took me losing my job to admit that I was far from finding any kind of balance. I have been married for three years and had been a 70-80 hour-a-week chef. I barely knew my Daughters and had been pushing myself farther away from my wife. I wasn’t happy with where I was going or even with the food I was pushing out, but I had the title.
Titles don’t mean shit in the scope of things. I am now happier to write about and practice my craft at home than I have been in a long time. I am working and making everything from scratch at an up and coming local establishment. I have a couple dinners that I have in the works. My wife and I have also realigned our goals so that we can share in a culinary life together.
My wife and I each work less than 5 minutes away from our house. We both work about 40 hours. We actually get to see each other and the kids. We each have 2 days off a week. I know that when we go back to chasing our dream the hours will go through the roof again, but it will be ours and on our terms. For now we will enjoy the time we have with our kids. For now we will take every moment we can to be with each other and help each other. Now if I could just figure out how to clean the house to her standards…
I know that these all seem like random thoughts. They are. It is just so damn hard to see others push themselves to that point. I am struggling to see this happen even though I didn’t know the man at all. I am not going to paint a picture of the chef life being easy and poetic. It is hard. It is rough. You will lose things that are important to you. But, it can also be rewarding. It can be fun. It is a place to do amazing and innovative things with food. It is a way to reclaim classic and sometimes ancient methods of cookery. It can be a place where you meet life-long friends, teachers, students, and maybe even the person that you spend the rest of your life with.
Two things that I have realized this past week are that I will always take food seriously and I need to avoid ever taking myself too seriously. Some of these thoughts have come to mind because of the tragedy of Benoit, but also because I have my own baggage. We all do as chefs. I think that if we didn’t have some issues we probably would have chosen a much easier path.
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