The Burnt Chef Project and my time as chef

Welcome back guys.

Today I want to talk about something that is pretty close to my heart, being an ex chef and all.

I would like to thank my good friend Andy for bringing this project to my attention. Andy is an incredible chef and you can check out his creations on his Instagram here. He currently runs the kitchen for an awesome little country pub in Liphook called The Links Tavern. You can go eat his food 7 days a week. Check out their website here.

The Burnt Chef Project looks, deals with, and tackles mental health issues for hospitality workers, improving the conditions within hospitality, and raising money for the mental health charity Mind. You can check out their Twitter here and their Instagram here.

The Burnt Chef Project is all about employers taking better care of their staff. They are also campaigning for at least 3 consecutive days off in a month per chef.

Now if you’ve ever worked in hospitality you’ll know that you’re lucky just to have two days off in a row, the first day is exclusively sleeping, maybe drinking. Day two is for getting shit done that you gotta do. Then it’s back to the grind.

Working in kitchens is hard work. You spend all day away from your family, you don’t get to see your friends. You miss big events. You wont get to do father’s day, mother’s day or any of that shit because you will be working.

I whole heartily back this project.

Mind is an incredible charity that doesn’t give up on you or your mental health. They work with people who suffer with mental health during their recovery. You can donate to this wonderful charity here.

Looking at this project inspired me to talk about my time in the kitchen. Looking over how it was, how I felt and how others made me feel.

I want to speak from my own experience and say, working in kitchens fucks with you. Mentally, physically and emotionally.

From long working hours with no decent break, just a few minutes to drain a smoke to being on your feet all day in hot kitchens, it’s understandable why so many chef’s have mental health, drug, and drink issues.

I found myself at points during my cheffing career sat in the bottom of my shower, crying my heart out with some of the worst mental health I ever had.

I was pushed to emotional limits time and time again. A huge part of this being because I was a woman working in a kitchen, I had more to prove. I was pinned up against a dishwasher and had my face screamed in, I had a gravy boat thrown at my head. I was told time and time again I didn’t belong in a commercial kitchen because of my gender and why wasn’t I making a sandwich? I never cracked in the kitchen. You don’t fucking show weakness there otherwise you will get torn apart.

Kitchen’s are lawless, HRless lands. You get away with saying or doing shit you wouldn’t usually because hey, that’s what chef’s are like. Don’t get me wrong chef’s have the strongest bonds because you spend 18 hours a day,  5/6/7 days a week together…. but fuck me, these people can tear you down quicker than a child running through a Jenga tower.

One time that will forever stick in my mind, came from a chef who had been on my ass about being a female over and over again. If this was intentional or not, sub conscious or conscious; I will never know. This one chef tore me down emotionally and mentally. He left me broken.

The one time I referenced earlier came when I picked up the wrong herb during a busy service. I was screamed at, asked why I was trying to sabotage him. I was told to get out. I flat refused because, it’s a busy service and I wasn’t going to be the weak one. A similar mistake made by my male counter part made less than a week later, was met with laughs and calling him a plonker.

This one chef seemed to make it his personal mission to tear me down. His mission succeeded and he broke me. I became quiet in the kitchen, not throwing myself into the banter and being half the person I was.

He mocked me when I fell and my ankle blew up to twice the size and I couldn’t walk.

Him and I finally came to blows when he was making jabs at me over personal shit and I told him to back the fuck off. He had pushed me way way too far and I was no longer going to stand for it. Things escalated to quite a level and it was left with him unable to look me in the eye.

And chef, if you’re reading this and wondered why I never respected you and why I suddenly became muted… If the above isn’t enough than let me break it down for you nice and simple…

IF YOU ARE A HEAD CHEF YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF THE WELL BEING OF YOUR STAFF. YOU FAILED ME MATE.

You will work your ass off in the kitchen. You will push yourself to every limit you have and you will push past those limits.

I remember one of the few times I broke in the kitchen. I was on a 23 day straight when we were short staffed. 23 days, around 16 hours a day. That’s 368 hours.

I was starting to get weak. That much time without a break, not eating correctly and not sleeping enough was starting to take its toll. I spoke to my manager who simply said “once you’ve been to hospital with a suspected heart attack is when you can have a day off.”

I am not ashamed to say in that moment, in front of my manager; I sat on the floor and I fucking cried. I think that’s the moment he worked out I was actually broken.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were insane times in that kitchen. I made some of the closest friends I’ve ever made. I had some of the best times and hardest days. However before you start a career in the kitchen you gotta know it’s tough. You will hurt and you will bleed. You will  burn yourself, peel yourself and carve yourself.

You need to know it’s going to be fucking tough. You got to be strong, but fuck me, you’ll have some of the best times you’ve ever had.

If you’re struggling chef, talk to your head chef; talk to your sous. Any decent chef and line manager will know the struggle chef’s face and will take you seriously. If they don’t, talk to your AGM or GM.

Look after yourself, you work fucking hard and I salute you. 

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