'It's not a case of work-life balance, it's that work is not the most important thing'

The  Staff Canteen

In the course of his career, Mark Poynton has seen the industry change completely. Not only that, but his relationship to his career has evolved, too. 

When he was just starting off, the chef and owner of MJP Restaurant in Cambridge considered his job to be his entire life, and he was willing to put everything on the line to be the best that he could be: his time, his relationships and his health, physical and mental.

 

And while he was busy making a name for himself, the chef moved in circles where nurturing one's health was seen as a sign of weakness. 

Mark is reluctant to breach the topic of mental health within hospitality, not because as a subject it still carries stigma, but because he finds it hard to find his place in the conversation. 

'It wasn't right'

"I don't want to say I'm not the person to talk about it because we should all talk about it," he explained, "but I've seen people suicidal because of what we do and the way I've been part of how people have been treated in the past." 

"It's a f***ing tough industry, but it shouldn't be as hard as it is." 

"We - as the generation of chefs that we are," speaking for both himself and Aktar Islam, co-host of the Grilled podcast episode they recorded together with TSC editor Cara Houchen, "for any chef that was born in the eighties and grew up in the nineties, it was normal to be abused and then to become the abuser." 

"We lived in the mindset - and I say I lived because I don't at all anymore - that if you can't do it, you can f**k off because you're a f***ing snowflake. And it's not right." 

"In those early 2000s, however good it was, and however good the food was - and it was f***ing phenomenal, it wasn't right." 

"We treated people with contempt, we worked people too hard, I worked too hard and Daniel [Clifford] worked too hard. Things have had to change and things will change."

Now, at MJP, not only do he and his team only work three and a half days a week, but they treat each other - and themselves - with the respect they deserve.

"I've got my two children and my wife who I love with all my heart and I need to see them as much as I need to see the restaurant." 

"I know that's not sustainable for everyone," he added, "but it's not a case of work-life balance, it's that work is not the most important thing." 

"There are times where things are more important and we need to be able to see when people are suffering."

'I lost the star because I lost my own focus'

When he walked away from Alimentum after ten years, having earned then lost a Michelin star in the process, the chef admits to having taken it out on everyone he cared about.

"I lost the star because I lost my own focus.

"However I paint the picture of 'Michelin were wrong, I should have kept the star,' I don't. It's my own fault. They obviously thought I wasn't cooking Michelin star food, it's my fault, so fundamentally I have to take that on my own shoulders." 

"I lost the plot and I took it out on my closest family and friends, and it's because of an institutionalised way of working that we've had for so many years. The only way it's going to change is if we talk about it and make it better for people."  

A problem for society at large

But even with his experiences, having dealt with his own issues as a hospitality professional, Mark doesn't believe that mental illness is a problem inherent to the industry.

"We are very stiff upper lip in that we don't ask for help and we don't offer help."

"I don't think that as hospitality we should put the pressure on ourselves to think that we're not doing enough; we're not doing enough as a nation, we should all do more as personal people, as in ourselves, and with that, hospitality will get better." 

"We've led such a life that it doesn't matter, so we have to get better in our own lives for hospitality to get better." 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th June 2021

'It's not a case of work-life balance, it's that work is not the most important thing'