Each year, more and more television shows and films about chef life are produced, with each of them glamourizing a profession with a seriously dark side. From long hours to drug abuse, these are the realities of life in the kitchen.
The media can manipulate any job to make it seem like an overhyped dream. Case in point: chef life. It seems that no matter where we turn, we’re surrounded by another film or television show that focuses on what seems like the charmed lives of chefs or the hyper-intense reality of the kitchens on Top Chef or MasterChef. But let’s be real: chef life ain’t easy and the media is sending out some seriously distorted messages that those in the industry are tired of listening to. Being a chef is cool and easy, haven’t you heard?
“This industry doesn’t pay well or doesn’t pay anything close to what we go through or what we put up with.”
The fact is, there will always be celebrity chefs in the mass media. We won’t be able to get rid of them, as we thrive off celebrity culture here in North America. The messages being sent out to the masses about chef life is that it’s glamorous, trendy and safe, sadly those messages are nowhere close to what true chef life is like. Chef Russell Auckbaraullee owner of Penthouse Catering explains, “Television and film will always do what they do. In restaurants, there are no vacation days and no benefits. You’re expected to stand on your feet over 14 hours a day.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chefs often work in crowded, hot, busy kitchens full of potentially dangerous situations, equipment, and environments where the stress level is high. Many chefs work long hours without a day off in sight and for many, suffer through bruises/cuts and other various injuries because they can’t call in sick. Chef Russell goes on to explain, “This industry doesn’t pay well or doesn’t pay anything close to what we go through or what we put up with.”
“In restaurant life, it’s encouraged and the peer pressure is there. I never in my life witnessed so many drugs and how open people were about it.”
While the media presents one image of what it’s like to be a chef including high-pay and glamorous lifestyles, the reality is the life of a chef can also hold a lot of darkness. Over the last year, there have been several publications that have focused on everything from VICE’s Munchies writing two different pieces (found here and here) dedicated to the mental health of chefs in the kitchen and The Guardian expose on chefs recovering from drug addiction and Toronto’s own Jen Agg penning an op-ed in the New York Times about the rampant sexism in the restaurant industry – the industry seems like a very dark and troubled place. Chef Russell shares, “In restaurant life, it’s encouraged and the peer pressure is there (to do drugs). I never in my life witnessed so many drugs and how open people were about it.” Russell shares that everyone from owners to food runners tend to participate in the culture, as chefs are seen like rock stars who are unbreakable, at best. One of the typical clichés found in the Hollywood glamorization of the chef culture. He explains, “It’s a trap for most employees but we’re only human.”
If you go into this industry with an open heart and mind, knowing what it can bring you – then this could be the career for you.
Is there really any way to stop this? The sad reality is no, there isn’t. There will always be chefs and those who work in the industry trying to chase the Hollywood lifestyle and chase what they think chef culture is. But the main point of this piece is to serve as a reality check to those who want to get into the industry. You see, being a good chef requires a lot of different talents (one including basic food knowledge) but it also requires that you have a love, passion and understanding that this job will probably take more from you than you will take from it. “It’s a business at the end of the day but I love to cook and understand I will be learning something new every day,” shares Russell. For him, his reality has changed from working in kitchens to running his very own catering company and teach cooking classes. If you go into this industry with an open heart and mind, knowing what it can bring you – then this could be the career for you. Russell explains, “I’ve had some of the most fun of my life in this industry and I do care about it a lot.”
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