Working over a hot stove day in and day out takes a lot of mental, emotional, and physical strength. This makes the culinary arts a lot more stressful than what most might imagine.
And when the long hours begin to pile on? Chef burnout is what comes next.
Today, we discuss how professional chefs maintain their mental health to combat the harmful effects of chef burnout with Bobby Rahman — a traditional Canadian chef that works in one of the country’s most illustrious Michelin starred restaurants:
Before anything else, please introduce yourself to our readers!
Bobby Rahman: Hello, my name is Bobby Rahman. I work under the executive chef of one of the renowned Michelin-starred restaurants here in Canada — widely known for our authentic Canadian cuisine. I attended culinary school after deciding that practicing law (I was a lawyer for some time), was just not for me.
Culinary arts have always been a passion of mine! I feel like I’ve been cooking my whole life and working in a culinary profession has been very rewarding.
Now, apologies for getting straight to the point, but on the subject of our main topic of the day. How has your mental health been since you’ve begun working as a professional chef?
Bobby Rahman: I’ve been trucking through as best as I can. Managing my work-life balance and recovering from the long hours by taking care of my own health very seriously.
Have you ever suffered through the dreaded chef burnout?
Bobby Rahman: I have. Which is only a matter of course, I think.
As much as I love my job (I wouldn’t give up my career for anything), chef burnout is unavoidable. In fact, not only me, but I’m sure the other chefs that work at our restaurant, no matter how carefully we attend to the matter of burnout, have suffered through it as well.
What was your experience with chef burnout like? Was there some kind of trigger to it?
Bobby Rahman: There was nothing malicious to trigger me to experience burnout. It was just a matter of failed work-life balance. With all the hours I spent at work, I found myself away from my family and friends too often, which just led to more and more stress.
How did your environment affect your stress levels?
Bobby Rahman: As mentioned, the restaurant that I work for is a very reputable establishment. We take the possibility of burnout very seriously as members of the hospitality industry, but the kitchen, which is a naturally very trying environment, is the center of a chef’s career
In the kitchen, mistakes are not permitted, especially for an establishment known for its quality chefs and dishes. It’s hard to take care of oneself when trying to serve our customers. That, in itself, comes with a lot of responsibility and pressure.
What are your moods like when working?
Bobby Rahman: In the kitchen, my focus has always been good. I’m naturally passionate about my career, and that kept (and keeps) me motivated enough to stay productive.
But that doesn’t mean that, after a particularly busy day, I don’t find myself exhausted. And I’m not just talking about being physically tired either, I mean emotional and mental exhaustion as well.
Everyone has bad days, and some days those bad days can leach into ‘normal’ days. I’m self-aware enough to understand this, but it doesn’t mean that I can necessarily just magically cure myself of the burnout that comes from those bad days.
Did you learn anything in culinary school to combat the effects of chef burnout? (If so, what is it?)
Bobby Rahman: I was told that I must find balance. That meant taking care of my well-being with both rest and sleep. It also meant finding free time to spend with family and friends even after a busy week. It meant sitting down to eat at dinner to talk about how life has been like for them while I was working. It also meant keeping my passion for cooking close by finding joy in new recipes and making connections with my fellow chefs.
Now that you have more experience working in a professional setting as a chef, what are your three hard rules when cooking (as pertaining to chef burnout)?
Bobby Rahman: Hmm, just three rules? Well, I will refer back to my previous answer a bit by breaking down the aspects of my life into three categories:
- Career: As chefs, we need to have passion, or a will, to keep going. So, devote some time to finding yours, whether that be trying out new dishes, painstakingly preparing the food that you serve to your customers, the colleagues that you work with at your restaurant, or just having fun with cooking in general.
- Personal Health: Your personal health should not come second to your career. Stress is a killer. So, make sure to take breaks and rest periods when needed.
- Relationships: By this, of course, I mean making sure to spend time with your family, your friends, your kids if you have them, or (as mentioned earlier) the other chefs that you work with at your restaurant.
And finally, to finish us off! What should aspiring chefs not do in order to avoid chef burnout?
Bobby Rahman: The culinary profession is a career, just like any profession. But try not to treat it solely as your job. I really do believe that loving what you do and finding joy in cooking (whatever form that may take for you), will help guide your way as a chef.