KnifeofBrian on: Striving to find a work-life balance

The Staff Canteen

Can a chef ever achieve a solid work-life balance? KnifeofBrian asks the question.

Do you want to know a secret? Do you promise to keep it to yourself? Well….here it is…. I struggled, and I still do. For the longest time, I struggled to find the balance between the work and my personal life. How could I do my job, functioning at a level of intensity, which burns out so many?

How could I be the husband and father which I am required to be? How could I not let my friends and family down at social events? How would I find time to relax and be myself? How could I do ALL these things and remain my awesome self?

The truth is, trying to attack all of these issues in their entirety, was driving me a little nuts. When I think about it now, it still draws me into a darkened place.

Be your own priority

So, what did I do? How did I find balance? Honestly. I don’t think I have. What I am trying to do is change my approach. By this, I mean to shift the focus from my job defining who I am to letting me, Brian, be the priority. It’s cliché but looking after number one is how I am dealing with the struggle. I make sure that I do the things which I enjoy and help improve me as a person.

Sorry Tarquin

I’ll come back to the specifics in a bit. But before this can be done. One needs to realise that the significance of what they do in the office/kitchen/restaurant, is minimal. Busting your arse for a job which would replace you within days, should you drop down dead. They would. But your family can’t replace you. Your loved ones can’t replace you. My wife may say different! But, I hope you get my point.

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Brian in action

Being run down to the point of exhaustion, so that you can’t enjoy those moments with your own family and friends is not how it should be. At the end of the day, it’s just someone’s dinner. Unless you’re a chef on the front line, in a war zone (#Respect) or dropping of aid to famine-ravaged villages for the United Nations, little Veronica and Tarquin will have to wait that little bit longer for their egg and cress sandwiches. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel by taking your foot off the gas by 5%. To carry on the driving metaphor, revving your engine in the red all the time will kill your motor eventually. Who does that benefit?

Burning out

Too many websites and forums are still glorifying the aggressive, work hard/play hard lifestyle. Glamorising the burned-out chef. Hollywood even cashed in on chefs on the edge. Two of the biggest films about our industry of recent years, both featured chefs “losing their shit!” Having psychotic episodes. But it all worked out in the end. That’s the Bradley Cooper effect. In reality. We all know how that would have ended. Most of us know the chefs who fell off the edge and didn’t come back.

It's only Rock 'n' Roll but....

Being a chef is sexy. It’s rock and roll. But only a few, less than 0.01% of us are in the limelight, making waves. We are mostly soaping down oven doors, trying to get home. Clock watching and hovering around the clingfilm at the end of a shift.

Turning down the volume

So, back to the specifics. What do I do? Like I mentioned. I shifted the focus from me being 80% chef and slotting the rest of my life into the gaps. Now, I am only a chef whilst I am in the kitchen. I stopped letting the job define me as a person. I stopped trying to balance being a chef for the rest of my life because I realised that that is an unfair battle. Chef vs Life is ridiculous. A life has so many elements, all of which outweigh your job! Chef vs Family/Friends/Self/Physical Health/Mental Health/Diet/Love. photo.JPG
Spinning plates or pans even!

Turning the volume down on the chef part of my life is where I’m at. It’s not a perfect system. In a recent chat with “Love Letters To Chefs”, I identified that this holistic approach can only really work if it is explained to your peers and employer. If they respect you, it should make sense. But every case is different.

Honesty is the best policy

You need to be honest with yourself. It took me a long time to realise what I needed. Which aspects of my life were toxic, and which were worth changing for. What I also try and do, as a senior chef, is to be more proactive and less reactive to the needs of the chefs around me. I do my best to ensure they get the days off they require.

Paying as much attention to the mental health and welfare of those around you as you would to your SFBB diary and allergy checklists. I am certain that more people are affected by overwork, fatigue and stress than they are having an allergic reaction to Lupin.

Taking time out

Get rest, get away from the noise. Spending 12 hours under the billion-Watt extraction unit, listening to that constant drone can be tiring. I sometimes take the longer walk home, just for the peace. Being in an environment which is unrelated to work, or home helps me bridge the two worlds.

Be the best person you can be 

I am by no means a saint. Only recently being told that I can occasionally be very difficult to work with due to my moods. I know that I have been very tetchy in the recent heatwave here in the UK. This is the closest I’ve come to considering a career change. Fuelled even more by the 70-hour week which I found myself doing to cover a chef’s holiday. It’s been a while since I put in those sorts of hours in the kitchen and I’m still recovering now.

Only sweet baby Jesus knows how I used to do that on a weekly basis. Those who know me well will tell you that I am mostly a calm, chilled out chap. But I know I am guilty of suppressing anger and negative emotions. I would then vent this pent-up rage in a torrent of passive aggressive sarcasm, bitchiness and nastiness. I’m working on this aspect of my personality. But I can only afford so much therapy! My personal belief is that life is about trying to be the best you. Some say, the best version of yourself. The emphasis should be on the try. No matter what your religious belief is -  if any. When it comes to reflecting on your life. You want to able to tell the world that you gave it a go.

So, to summarise. Chill out. Love. Learn to switch off. Learn to switch on. Talk.

Chat soon.

If you haven’t checked out Love Letters to Chefs, please go see the work which this site is trying to promote. The hashtag #BetterChefLife is being pushed to help improve the lifestyle, welfare, expectation and perception of chefs.

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Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian

Knife of Brian

Knife of Brian is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his website

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Editor 10th August 2018

KnifeofBrian on: Striving to find a work-life balance