Chef Tom Green Talks Chef Life and Mental Health at South Devon College
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and we have begun a campaign to educate the chefs of the future, that it is paramount they get their heads in the right place early in their career. Without a proper mental foundation the life of a chef is hard and tough. With the right mindset the challenges of chef life are easy to spot and simple to navigate.
There was a time in the not too distant past when chefs welcomed the rigour of the job and took pride in the exhaustion and mental toll that came with the badge of being a head chef. Those days are over and a lot of the chefs who went on that journey are either gone from the industry or regret it. Why?
The tough guy image of burnt-out chefs was a familiar sight from the 1990’s onwards but as mental health professionals know only too well you can only keep it up for so long before something cracks. Chef Tom Green knows all about it. He’d been there, bought the T shirt and worn it.
So, how should you approach being a chef when you are just starting out?
Tom Green visited a group of 30 students at South Devon College this week to deliver a guest lecture on his career to date and share with them some ‘lived experience’ mental health tick boxes to be aware of.
Professional kitchens are stressful, fast paced, hot and noisy. It’s good to know that in advance so you know how to prepare. Kitchens are also places full of egos and an environment that can be anxiety provoking, physically and mentally demanding and come with unsociable hours.
Further, the life of a chef messes with your work life balance and can have a serious effect on self-esteem. This is due to having to be as good as your team all the time. Add in the aspects of failure, poor social media reviews and critical press and you’ve got the makings of a downward spiral into substance and alcohol misuse.
Enough to put you off? It’s not the end of the world. Identifying the kitchen and the chefs you want to work with and respect is the first part of the equation of finding lasting jab satisfaction.
Here’s Chef Tom Green’s checklist for success:
- Find a place you enjoy working that aligns with your own values
- Eat properly
- Drink plenty of water
- Fresh air
- Be kind to yourself
- Be kind to others
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Stress/recognise the triggers
- Find a way to deal with that stress, it is never one size fits all
- Minimise alcohol consumption
- Refrain from self medication with pain killers and other substances
Also, and this is really important. Remember that there are kitchens to work in that are far away from the stress, turmoil and heat of battle that are characterised by TV shows.
What type of chef do you want to be?
Find an employer who reflects your personal ethics and working style.
Aside from restaurants and hotels you can work in any of the following areas:
- Pop Ups
- Private Chef
- Ski chalets
- Contract Catering
- Street Food
- Development Chef
He concluded: “The sky really is the limit, but just make sure you look after yourself and others on the way up there. If someone had told me when I was sitting where you are now, that I would have cooked for some of the amazing people I have had the privilege to cook for, even King Charles and Queen Camilla, then I would never have believed them, but I did and you can too.”
Film & photography by Carlos Farinha.