It’s getting difficult now. I try to stay positive about this industry. I do my absolute best to encourage, persuade and nurture young people into choosing a life in the hospitality sector. I would invite them to come and do their Work Experience Placement with me and get a real fast track and immersive experience of what it is like to be a chef. I would tell them that a good chef will always have work. No robot or machine will ever be able to do our job in the kitchen. This could be a job for life!
But now, as I approach my mid forties and see more and more of my chef friends drop out of the kitchen in favour of better pay and better hours outside of the Chef-life hashtag. Delivery drivers, mechanics, Supermarket management and even bus drivers. There are a few chefs locally, who have migrated towards the fruit and vegetable suppliers. It’s not rare here to see an ex 2 rosette chef turning up to deliver my trays of salad and potatoes.
Am I the mug? Punching in 55 plus hour weeks. Long weekends trapped in the kitchen, feeding the aforementioned ex chefs, who are now enjoying their Friday afternoon to Sunday night with their own family and friends. Am I the crazy one? Don’t answer that.
I know there will be those hardcore chefs who’ll be saying “If you cant take the heat, get out of the kitchen!” And yes. They have a point. But I do like it. I love being a chef. I don’t want to leave. My problem is, I am finding it more difficult to encourage people to enter it as a career choice. The stress, the hours and the isolation from love ones. My teenage daughter has a real passion and talent for cooking, but it would break my heart if she ended up work in a sweaty bistro kitchen, surrounded by grumpy old chef bloggers and sociopaths. Having to miss out on so much, like me.
The strain on relationships is always difficult for a chef. If they are lucky enough to find someone who will be happy with broken weeks, split shifts and Christmas dinners alone. Then I salute them. But will that situation survive the trying to raise a family? How many family events will you miss before they are fed up with it. Fed up with you being permentantly tired, on your day off. I have been with my wife for all of my career. I recently asked her how she would feel if I suddenly got a nine to five job and was home evenings and weekends. Her response… “What? Even Fridays?…Cos that’s when Greys Anatomy is on and you’ll just annoy me!” We can draw from that, that she does not want me hanging around the house. She has fully converted to #ChefWife. Total independent parenting and a single entity. To have me hanging around would completely upset the dynamic of our relationship. She’s got so used to me not being there, she rarely considers me when accepting invites out. I’m still referred to as “+1” or her invitations. Even though we have been together for 24 years, if you collate the total time spent together, we’ve barely had 5 years in each other’s company. I’ve got 10 more years before we get to the seven year itch (quick maths)
For all the positives that these jobs can offer by way of career longevity. The mental strain it puts on chefs, young and old is real. For young people coming in to this game, the reality of missing out on social engagements and general “hanging out” will test their own relationships with friends and family. Employers need to do their best to accommodate days off. They can’t act all surprised when the commis chef hands in their notice, to go and work in Morrisons Supermarket. Because they are fed up of missing their friends’ parties. The older chef equally should be respected. Sometimes they are treated as expendable commodities, they should be encouraged to take the occasional Friday or Saturday off. It’s not uncommon for senior chefs to work 48 weekends of the year. Employers should be accountable to a duty of care to the welfare of all their staff. Not just in the work place, but outside of the kitchen or restaurant too. They’d be the first to call out an employee if their behaviour reflected on the business in any way. So would it be unfair for an employee to blame their working conditions on the breakdown of their own relationships or behaviour. With mental health featuring regularly in the media, hospitality is pretty high up on the contributors list.
So, back to my initial point. Is it right or fair for me to encourage people in to this life? Personally. Yes I will. But I will always be honest. Let them know that this job can give you everything, but it can also take a lot away. Work hard, but know when to take a break. Find the job that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for that time off.
This generation gets a lot of bad press. Being called snowflakes and a generation of young people expecting instant gratification. I’m very much against this ideology. There is nothing wrong with people expecting to be treated fairly. This generation has seen the effect excessive working hours has had on us. Why would they not want to say “**** that!” Friends and family are important. When all is said and done, they’re the people we’ll need in our lives. Maybe the boss will have to get his hands dirty this weekend.