WE'RE CHEFS, NOT MISFITS

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Other 29th June 2018

WE'RE CHEFS, NOT MISFITS

The passing of Anthony Bourdain has hit so many of us with a profound sadness at losing not only a fellow chef, but someone who really spoke our truth. So many chefs shared how he inspired their careers. And we deeply admired how he transcended the everyday struggles of the kitchen. In life, he called us to take an honest look at what’s under the surface of our industry. And his departure has told us that we haven’t looked deep enough.

Through his writing, we - the outcasts and misfits of society - were validated for the first time and chefs all around the globe embraced the badge wholeheartedly. This is where I want to press pause and dwell for the rest of the article. Because to me, this feeling of being a ‘misfit’ has shaped our entire kitchen culture.

Yes, many of us arrived at the kitchen following difficult life circumstances. And yes, our job itself, with its demanding nature and unsociable hours, doesn’t allow us an existence that the outside world would view as normal. But I feel it’s time for us to put aside our attachment to that label, for our own good.

NOT BELONGING

No one is born a misfit. Very often it’s something in their environment or the people in it that give them a sense of not fitting in. Which is why someone who feels like a misfit struggles to belong until they find their tribe. Facing the outside world can be a challenge; facing themselves is even harder, which makes them choose ways of behaving that are really all about running away from themselves. In addition, the misfit doesn’t feel valued by others and this makes them not want to value themselves. And not being sure of their place, they’re always wary of their position in every moment.

Maybe not every chef identifies with that feeling of being a misfit. But the strange thing is that it shows up our ways of being in the kitchen. We can feel out of place in the outside world. Many of us turn to coping mechanisms like overwork or even drugs or alcohol when faced with harsh truths about ourselves.

As chefs we display little regard for our wellbeing. Aren’t we always putting ourselves last, ignoring everything - the injuries, the exhaustion, the sometimes toxic work environments - just to keep the ball rolling? This is probably where the chasing after perfection, judging ourselves harshly, setting exacting demands on ourselves comes from. And isn’t it ironic that we can be so warm-hearted and generous, but at the same time so suspicious of each other?

LET’S OWN WHO WE ARE

I want to name the truth that there’s no shame in being a misfit. With each passing day we’re finding that more and more people are feeling marginalised and the current model of society isn’t working for them. So we’re not alone. My invitation is for all of us to stop feeling ‘less than’ for who we are. The answer to feeling that we belong lies within - being comfortable in our own skin, both inside and outside the kitchen. Being tolerant of our flaws and imperfections, forgiving any poor decisions or foolish choices we made.

I know radical self-acceptance is easier said than done. At the very least, isn’t it enough that we’re breathing, our hearts our beating, that we’ve been chosen to inhabit this planet? Doesn't it count for anything that each of us was gifted this talent of doing wonderful things with food? Let’s stop apologising to ourselves for who we are, chefs. If you’re ready to embrace all of you, Love Letters to Chefs is here to support your journey.

(Ishwariya Rajamohan founded Love Letters to Chefs, which is a platform devoted to helping chefs navigate the challenges of the profession. It's aimed at helping you really own your gifts and capabilities and bring your best self to work. It's about seeing the human being and not just the person who shows up to work in a chef's jacket.)