How Chefs Stay Sane Amidst the Chaos

The restaurant industry is not only highly competitive but also fast-paced and demanding, requiring chefs and kitchen staff to log long and sometimes irregular hours. Chefs, in particular, need to endure the pressure of competition, stay updated with food trends, and continually come up with innovative recipes and interesting menus to draw in crowds.

The lack of sleep, irregular shifts, and mental stress of needing to efficiently manage a kitchen all take their toll. So it’s not uncommon to hear reports of chefs engaging in destructive behaviour, such as abusing substances, turning to alcohol, and alienating even their spouses, with their marriages ending in divorce.

Fortunately, there are ways by which chefs can manage the stress inherent to their job. So, whether you’re a relative newcomer to the industry or have been a chef for a couple of years, you can manage stress by taking the following steps:

1. Acknowledge stress and know your triggers

The first empowering step to managing the pressures of being a chef involves acknowledging that you have a problem and then pinpointing what your stressors are.

Do kitchen messes upset you significantly? Are you on edge because you feel like your staff aren’t learning? Is there a looming deadline or target you need to fulfil? Are you constantly losing sleep because of the long hours? Recognising your stressors allows you to take stock of what you have been doing and what you can do to improve how you react to these triggers.

2. Eat mindfully and healthily

It’s ironic that chefs prepare food for others but may not be eating well themselves. Atta‘s Maria Kabal and Harry Dhanjal, for example, are consciously making an effort to plan for their staff meals to ensure these are healthy and nutritious. Harry also makes it a point to eat with staff not too late at night to ensure there’s sufficient time between eating and winding down for the night.

3. Talk to others

Communicating how you feel with your kitchen staff and the rest of the restaurant team is important to resolve any work-related issues that are stressing you. You can use this opportunity to not only share your thoughts but also to get their feedback and find a way to collaboratively work on a solution.

Outside of your work circle, you can talk to family, friends, and professionals who can provide a different perspective of what you are going through.

4. Set aside time for yourself

Self-care is a buzzword in today’s stress-ridden world, but it’s a must for everyone, including chefs. No matter how tight your schedule seems, make time for you – whether it’s 15 or 30 minutes of stretching and meditation, or getting away for a quick getaway when you can. It doesn’t matter as long as you devote some time focussed on you doing something you like outside of the kitchen.

Sydney-based chef and restaurateur Alessandro Pavoni, for example, makes time for activities he enjoys, whether it’s surfing, golfing, or playing the guitar. Fitzroy’s Anada head chef Maria Kabal practises yoga after work every night. Michael Rantissi of Kepos Street Kitchen regularly goes to the gym, although he admits there was a time when he slipped up in his routine.

5. Make exercise a habit

Exercise is known to release endorphins that give runners, gym-goers, and other fitness enthusiasts that feel-good sensation associated with physical exertion. It also energises the body. Certain sports and exercise routines also help sharpen cognitive abilities, which explains how you may feel more determined and focussed after a run.

Head chef and owner of Atta Harry Dhanjal has gone back to hitting the gym regularly after a hiatus as, according to him, it keeps him centred and keeps his mind and body healthy.

6. Get enough sleep

Sleep deprivation is not only a form of physical stress but is also a precursor for other health issues such as diabetes, unhealthy weight gain, and cardiovascular problems. Chronic sleeplessness also affects our mental faculties, impairing memory and reducing our capacity to focus and learn new things.

If you are struggling to have seven to eight hours of sleep regularly, you can also try to make up for missed sleep by taking power naps or sleeping more whenever you can.

To a healthier workplace

As a chef or restaurateur (or both), the need to keep diners happy and to keep them coming is a major undertaking. This can lead to you getting burned out and affect your staff, as well.

But communicating with your people, knowing your triggers, and taking control of what you do every hour of the day can make a world of difference to the quality of your life and the success of your restaurant.

For 24/7 confidential support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.