The truths behind Kitchen Confidential

Talks about workplace mental health arises with Bourdain's death

The world mourns Anthony Bourdain, an executive chef, writer and television personality who took his own life last month.

In one episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain admitted that he was suffering from depression. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for both women and men from adolescence to middle age. According to the CMHA, mental illness affects people of all ages, levels of education, income brackets and cultures.

Bourdain’s passing and career as a chef sheds light on the way mental health issues can present themselves. Marion Cooper, executive director of CMHA Manitoba and Winnipeg, notes that mental illness can be hidden and, in this case, was hidden behind Bourdain’s persona.

“His public persona was so charismatic. If you didn’t read up on his struggles, you would have no idea he was suffering. This is how mental health can look sometimes. Hidden,” said Cooper.

This tragedy allowed many local chefs, including Adam Donnelly from Segovia and Mandel Hitzer from deer + almond, to speak out about the tough environment the kitchen poses, a struggle he outlined in his book Kitchen Confidential.

“As Anthony was so global, all these chefs were reading Kitchen Confidential around the world and we [were] like, ‘wow, it’s not just me and my restaurant,’” said Donnelly.

“It’s definitely better than when I first started cooking. You know people don’t work as long as they used to and I feel there’s a lot less stigmatism for asking for help when you need it, taking a break when you need it — things like this,” said Donnelly.

He goes on to say that kitchens were previously run in the opposite manner — where workers were to finish their work without complaints despite the pressure and the trauma inflicted upon them.

On July 3, Hitzer and Donnelly held a fundraiser that featured perspectives on mental health from guest speakers including Michael Redhead Champagne, the founder of Aboriginal Youth Opportunities. All proceeds raised through ticket sales went to the CMHA.

“Anthony taught me more than I can ever express and we want to honour his life,” said Hitzer. “We are devastated that he could not see a way out of his suffering. We wonder what would have happened if he reached out to just one friend.”

Donnelly added that all people working in the food industry should make their own health a priority, which in turn benefits themselves, and also their coworkers.

“I think that’s the key to a successful kitchen — to build that community within your restaurants of people that you trust and can go to when you need help,” Donnelly said.

“Generally, like asking how they’re doing and, you know, just being a real human being and not treating them improperly. And I feel that if you have a connection for the person you’re working for, or the people who’re working for you, then you’ll do more for them and feel more comfortable with them.”