NEW VIDEO: Chef Andrew Clarke talks mental health in hospitality and The Pilot Light Campaign

The  Staff Canteen

Andrew Clarke, chef director at Brunswick House, had no idea the reaction he would get from posting an honest account of his experience of depression on his Instagram page last year.

“It was massive, I had emails and text messages but from people who were quite close to me. I had no idea they were going through the same thing because no one ever talks about it!”

Andrew spoke to Jay Rayner for a piece in The Guardian

Andrew spoke to Jay Rayner

for a piece in The Guardian

Last year he featured in an article in The Guardian by Jay Rayner, titled 'Is being a chef bad for your mental health?' which received an equally staggering reaction. It led to the creation of The Pilot Light Campaign which launched on February 11 2018 and aims to get people talking about mental health. Andrew doesn’t want it to only focus on the hospitality industry but for now he says 'it’s as good a place as any to start breaking down the barriers'.

Is working in hospitality to blame for mental health issues?

“My depression was really brief,” explained Andrew. “It came off the back of a turbulent few years in my twenties. I was doing a lot of drugs, drinking a lot and still holding together a job in cooking even though I was quite reckless.

“But, here’s the thing, I don’t blame the job for anything that’s happened to me – in fact, it was the job which saved me.

“I’d really like to focus on the fact that the industry is a really great one to work in, yes it’s hard work but it is still fun. There’s been a lot of negativity in the media in terms of pay, mental health and drugs – the industry will heal itself and we need as many people as possible to stand up and make sure it survives this shitty reputation it is getting.”

Andrew knew he needed to do something off the back of the response on Instagram, initially he just wanted to do a campaign which exposed the stigma of speaking out.

This was me 10 months ago. Inside I was suffering from a pain so extreme that I could barely cope. It hit me like a ton of bricks at a time when I least expected it. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I rapidly lost weight and my only fuel was nervous energy but that was running out. I hated who I was and wanted to kill myself every night I came home from work. The loneliness and despair was crippling. But I’m very lucky to have some very special people in my life. My family and friends helped me through the darkest of times. I stayed strong for them and faced my demons. For as much pain as I was going through, I couldn’t possibly pass that on to them. I gave up drink and drugs and worked my arse off everyday. 100 hours a week. Each service pulled me gradually out of hell. I was very happy with my work and so proud of my team. I found a lot of reasons to live and even though I’m not 100% recovered yet, I work on myself everyday to stay strong and positive. 2016 has been good to me so far and I’ll make damn sure next year is even better. I never believed in depression and only ever saw the world in a positive light. But it's not until you experience it, that you realise just how real it is. I now reach out to people going through the same. I want to give as much as I can back, through charity or voice. Depression can happen to anyone of us. Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Talk to me. #worldmentalhealthday

A post shared by Andrew Clarke ⚜ (@fleurdelysldn) on

“The first step to getting help is recognising you need help,” he said. “But people don’t say anything they just keep it in. I want to get as many people as I can to tell their story, with a short simple post like mine on Instagram.

“I’m starting with hospitality because I know people in the trade but I don’t want it to be limited to it. I don’t want to portray the industry in a negative way, I want it to show us as an industry with a lot of strength.”

Why is it called The Pilot Light Campaign?

Andrew explained: "When your pilot light goes out on the stove you can’t cook. The analogy being that we just want to keep the pilot light going. A pilot is also someone who can guide you.

It does feel like it’s limited to the kitchen and I don’t want it to be. We (chefs) are a massive voice in hospitality but we are also a little broken voice which needs repairing.

I think we can lead the way to get people around the world talking about mental health which at the moment there is no solution to."

Andrew’s Instagram post resonated with so many people, stating ‘it hit me like a ton of bricks at a time when I least expected it’, and his story received hundreds of comments and likes.

“I’d said something that so many people can’t say. I just wanted to recognise World Mental Health Day because depression was something I was always sceptical about until it finally hit me.”

Andrew admits he was very self-destructive through his twenties, and believes the addictions he had were because he wasn’t happy so his depression may have been around longer than he realised.

He said: “I wanted to be a rock star and tour the world in bands – I didn’t want to be a chef! So I was quite angry towards being a chef to start with. By my thirties I was cool with it, I was doing alright and everything just naturally calmed down.”

How do you know you are depressed?

When Andrew was hit with depression it was during a more stable period of his life, he’d given up drinking and had just taken over Brunswick House as chef director but a relationship break down brought back all the demons he believes he had been suppressing.

“I was lucky,” he explained. “I had a lot of people looking out for me when they saw me over night go completely off kilter. I had nothing but the restaurant to get me out of the bin so I was very happy to have my time occupied with working. I was doing 100 odd hours a week, I was in a kitchen with people around me constantly so I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t within my thoughts.”

Andrew quote 2Work for Andrew was a total distraction and he says that despite the bad press the industry is getting being in the kitchen got him through it.

“I wasn’t drinking so I didn’t have the crutch of getting shit faced to get me through and it meant I had to deal with things immediately.”

He added: “I saw a few therapists and I do believe you have to talk to people to get better. If you want a good body, you work out – if you want your head to be well exercised you need to talk to people regularly. It shouldn’t have a stigma, I think everyone needs that little MOT every now and again.”

Why don't people talk about mental health?

Andrew interestingly discusses the fact that people will tell each other they have flu or a physical ailment but they wouldn’t come in to work and say ‘I’ve got a bit of depression at the moment’.

“If you’re that commis chef who thinks they are on their own and then you start seeing a few of your heroes opening up, you’ll realise that actually we’re all going through something.

“I want to break down those walls, if people talk about it they are more likely to go and get the help they need. We need to open up and recognise that mental health is an issue before we can do anything about it.”

As well as launching the campaign on Instagram, Andrew and his team are also looking at posters for workplaces, a pledge of support which restaurants can sign up to and are in talks to host a festival.

“It occurred to me that every workplace has a health and safety poster, but I don’t see enough workplaces with numbers for help and mental awareness. So I’d like to recreate something similar, it would have things to look out for or it could be about signing up to the pledge to look out for each other. But most importantly numbers to Sane, Mind or Samaritans so if you have had a bad day or service you know who you can talk to if you need to.

andrew clarke
Andrew Clarke

“Getting changed at the end of the night and seeing that poster and the number on the wall, it might be that small thing which saves someone.

“It’s harder and harder to find chefs at the moment so we really need to start looking out for people. It’s a tough industry and I don’t mind it being a little bit tough, I like it, but if we want to keep people we need to be a bit lighter in our approach than we were 10 years ago.”

What is The Pilot Light Campaign?

The Pilot Light Campaign is working with the charity Time to Change who Andrew says have struggled to get people in hospitality talking so they are happy to be involved.

“There are places like Hospitality Action who I didn’t even know about until I started digging around and doing research. I thought they would be a bigger voice considering how long they have been around. The campaigns they put together are with these big name chefs who are slightly out of reach, we want to do it with the new generation of cooks who are more relatable.”

He added: “The more people who talk about it, see it and recognise it means depression doesn’t become such a hard issue to tackle.”

By Cara Houchen

@canteencara



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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2018

NEW VIDEO: Chef Andrew Clarke talks mental health in hospitality and The Pilot Light Campaign