'A bored chef is just as bad as a stressed one!'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th April 2020

I wrote this blog a while ago, before Coronavirus or Covid-19 were part of our everyday vocabulary, however it seems to be more relevant now than ever before!

Recently we have had two very unwelcome guests in our house. I am normally a very hospitable, “my door is always open” kind of person; but these two!? Well they can just back the f*** up and get out! These are the kind of guests that turn up uninvited, no warning signs or signals of their arrival and they will happily stay as long as they deem fit, no matter how many hints or tactics you use to get them to leave; and no it wasn’t the in-laws.

These two go by the names of stress and anxiety.

Mr Chef Wife has been very open with his friends, family and colleagues about his struggles with this over the years and this blog post has been given his blessing. He isn’t the only one in the marriage that has and does suffer at the hands of anxiety but ours are very different beasts to control.

I promise to make you take sick days for the sake of your mental health

When I took my vows on that perfect winters day I promised in sickness and in health but what I should have said was “I promise to make you take sick days for the sake of your mental health”.

As a general rule “Chef” doesn’t take sick days, and I think this can be said for most; waiting until the inevitable burn out happens seems to be the method of choice. There is a definite vicious circle with stress and anxiety that makes me dizzy; the job causes it but time away from the kitchen accelerates it.

So many of our friends and colleagues in the industry are dealing with this and most probably suffering in silence, I know Mr Chef Wife did for a long time until I kept pushing him to seek help because in the end we were both suffering and the strain it put on our home life was too much.

The stress doesn’t just stop at the pass, it comes home and sits up until 1am, more often than not with a beer or two, eating yet another supermarket sandwich. It sits and stews on its own, reliving that bad service, the complaint, the arrogant guest that watches Saturday Kitchen and knows better than 23 years’ worth of chef’s experience.

Work pressures don’t stop at the end of service

Work pressures don’t stop at the end of service, there is no such thing as family time anymore, days off are never fully off. Emails are constantly pinging; the kitchen WhatsApp group never stops; mostly asking stupid questions like “chef where is the butter?”. I mean its not my kitchen, but I am pretty sure even I could work that one out!

At what point did a non-office based vocation become so admin heavy. If chef isn’t in the building, then he should be left alone! He is on his time, my time, the kids time, PRECIOUS TIME! I know leaving the kitchen on his days or mornings off gives Chef anxiety, I can practically see him twitching until it is time to go in and he is always leaving to get there earlier than necessary.

We need to start looking after our chefs, the industry needs to start protecting their well-being, the good ones are a dying breed and I cant really blame younger generations for not wanting to do the job or for quitting early on into their careers. TV shows do a really good job of just showing a glossy version of the industry, Master Chef I am looking at the likes of you!!!!

What they should really do is get contestants to stand and peel kilo after kilo of potatoes for chipping, whilst trying to deliver a busy lunch service, with limited prep 'cause yesterday’s team left you in the shit and you just got told you need to make a birthday cake that got missed off somebody’s booking information.

Oh AND it’s March so you now have three chefs on holiday because there has been no appropriate time for anyone to have annual leave for the other 11 months of the year.

The pressures on chefs comes from all around them

The world of chef requires some seriously hard graft, not to mention a huge sacrifice of your time and it won’t buy you those insta worthy, Gucci trainers in a hurry so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the younger generations aren’t interested in hospitality as a career choice!

The pressures on chefs comes from all around them, from the general public who want cheaper but larger portions that have been sustainably sourced, organically grown and locally produced. Hotel/restaurant owners who constantly want to reduce wage costs, margins and waste yet still want to deliver top class food and experiences (I wouldn’t be surprised if meals consisting of actual grass become a thing), the need to be available 24/7 (even more so if you are a hotel chef), wanting to be a good partner, parent and friend whilst never having the time to be present.

Knackered kitchen teams, tired kitchen equipment. Then there is trying to find the time to write menu’s and cost them, keep allergen files up to date and then eventually train the kitchen and front of house staff on the new menu’s. But all the while trying to maintain budgets and hit targets.

Naturally I have taken on the role of therapist in our marriage, but I shouldn’t have to, no job should take over the mental health of a human being like this! Chefs should not be pushed to work so tirelessly. Breaking point should never be within touching distance and never reached, which it sadly has many times! Look after yourselves and your colleagues, ask your chef if he needs help. If he is busting a bollock to get stuff done, take note and work hard to relieve the pressure.

I have lost count of the times I have helped Mr Chef-Wife through an anxiety attack

I have lost count of the times I have helped Mr Chef-Wife through an anxiety attack, been the voice of reason and talked him down from firing somebody (you’re welcome) because he felt like the passion and drive wasn’t shared. As I have said before Mr Chef-Wife would rather be present all the time and do it himself, so at times he is his own worst enemy and stress feeds off this.

I have cut my original ending out because since writing the above our situation has changed somewhat as has all of yours! There was a couple of weeks of uncertainty and I had a very worried anxious Chef at home. The industry is no doubt on its proverbial arse at the minute. Stress and anxiety are through the roof and added pressures that none of us have experienced before do not help.

Make sure you talk it out, take stock of what you have around you and find positives wherever you can. Seek help if you need it. This really is out of our control and we are very much taking each day as it comes. We try not to think too far ahead, the prospect of being stuck at home for a while longer trying to home school a 7 year old, with a usually very busy (not at home) chef and 2 hyper pre-schoolers is causing me to drink gin on a school night!

My last blog highlighted our lack of family time. Now I have all the time, but I think I preferred just having some of the time - a bored chef is just as bad as a stressed one, although all the extra baking and cooking is going down nicely! Remember you are not alone; this is all a bit weird for all of us and stay safe; mentally and physically!

Best wishes, Mrs Chef-Wife

Biography

Hi! I’m Jess AKA “Mrs Chef-Wife I’m the wrong side of 30 and have 14 years experience of living with “chef” and all the extras (mainly books) that he comes with. We have 3 children 7, 3 and 2 (their ages not names, although naming them after table numbers would have probably been a good idea) we have been living in Suffolk for the last 6 years after moving from the North West. Born in Suffolk, raised in Cheshire, relocated back to Suffolk; it makes the whole where are you from question difficult to answer! Chef is from Stoke. That’s it. No complications. 
I work part time as a carer shoe horned in between kitchen schedules, kids schedules and needing sleep. 
Hopefully some of you can relate to this! Happy reading. 
 

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th April 2020

'A bored chef is just as bad as a stressed one!'