Ishwariya Rajamohan

Ishwariya Rajamohan

Other 17th September 2018
Ishwariya Rajamohan


When I started exploring this topic a few months ago, I realised it was too big a question to answer without choosing one aspect to focus on. And when I narrowed it down to a better work-life balance for chefs, I again found that it wasn’t as simple as just reviewing our schedules.


We’ve all encountered, either personally or through the experiences of our colleagues, what a poor work-life balance can lead to. We match our personal rhythms with the kitchen - never stopping to breathe or to take stock of our lives, but simply pushing on to respond to whatever emergency calls our attention. One shift turns into a season, a whole year or even a decade of going through life without a clear vision.

In the meantime, we neglect other things that matter to us. Being conscious of this doesn’t always mean that we do something about it. We might be tempted to seek temporary relief from distractions like drugs or alcohol or even overwork. Some of us wait until we’re hit with that big wakeup call to react: we face burnout, an ultimatum from our partners, or our health takes a turn for the worse. Or we just wake up one day and realise we’re not cooking the kind of food we want to.


But it’s more than just a question of personal responsibility: the kitchen demands a loyalty from you that overtakes every other aspect of your life. It’s an unwritten rule: to both survive and succeed as a chef you are called to prioritise the cheflife over everything else. Along the way you give up some aspects of your individuality.

Boundaries blur at various levels: you lose the ability to tell where the kitchen ends and where you begin. You can’t detach yourself from your identity as a chef. You carry the daily stress in your body long after your shift has ended. You might even have trouble switching off your kitchen persona while communicating with loved ones at home.

You might know who you are as a chef, but who are you as a person?


Let’s begin by putting aside the quest of finding balance in the cheflife. That’s a burden you don’t need to carry, much less the guilt from constantly disappointing those you make commitments to. What if you were to shift the goalpost? How about simply seeking to become more ‘integrated’ - finding a little space for all the things that matter to you. Does that sound more doable, chef?

This is my recipe for a better cheflife:

Clarity: Step back, take a little time to get clear. Ask yourself:
What are the things that really matter to you?
Where are you now, with respect to those things? Where would you like to be?

Authenticity: You can use your answers to craft your vision for your life. Here you have to ask yourself: what kind of parent or wife or brother or friend do I want to show up as?

Sovereignty: What is the one small action you can take on an ongoing basis to get closer to that vision?


There’s a reason that I’ve linked this discussion on work-life balance to a ‘better cheflife’. Because when you show up whole and authentic, true to who you really are, honouring what really matters to you, it feeds back into your work in the kitchen. There’s no denying it. What it takes is for you to place as much importance in living an integrated life as you do on your career. I agree with you that it’s far from easy, but it’s no more complicated than that: it’s all about the intention.

You can choose to be the architect of your own life, chef.

(Ishwariya Rajamohan founded Love Letters to Chefs to help chefs navigate the challenges of the profession. It's about really seeing the human being who shows up to work in a chef's jacket. Her current focus is the #BetterCheflife project and the hashtag is being used on social media to promote the concept of a better work-life balance in our industry).


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