In his this column, club consultant Paul Rifkin looks at chefs, and their employers, prioritising mental and physical health.
A mate of my mine once said to me: “I’m a carpenter and work really hard, not like you chefs, who just stand around and cook.” I tried to explain the muscle burn when making a three-dozen egg-yolk hollandaise, or the tennis elbow I got from beating out chicken breast and veal schnitzels.
I also mentioned the carrying of 40kg potato sacks, lifting two or three 20kg boxes of meat and walking up the stairs to the kitchen. Not to mention putting away 48 cartons of chips and heaving frying oil, one 20kg drum in each hand.
Then standing on my feet for 10 to 12 to 16 hours, whilst constantly crouching down and up into fridges and ovens and twisting from left to right, lifting two full frying pans in one hand and dodging the hot oil flareup.
Walking on a wet and greasy floor, using all my leg and foot control to avoid slipping over and all this in a kitchen that could measure the room temperature with a sugar thermometer, often at 45-50 degrees centigrade!
He scoffed at my supposed “hard work”!
Personally, all this “hands on” over 40 years on the tools, resulted in three back surgeries, two reconstructed shoulders, rebuilt wrists and a lifetime at physio on my neck, elbows, hips, knees and feet.
Should a chef be fit? … Hell yes!
But wait, there is more.
Your mental health takes a battering from all the constant rush of service, short prep deadlines, impossible financial targets, management demands and the adrenaline high that stays spinning long after you have gone home.
Waking up in a cold sweat with the buzzing of the docket printer and the endless dockets that seem impossible to get on top of.
Sleeping with eyes wide shut!
Often this ends up with binge eating of questionably nutritious meals, which are snacks in reality, consumed at odd hours, accompanied by excess substances from alcohol to others.
It would seem a chefs’ health is very low priority, especially to the chefs themselves.
As employers and managers, it is incumbent on you to realise this and act, see what you can do to better improve the welfare and health of your chefs.
They are in short supply, so the investment in them, is well worth the challenge I am putting forward, learn to be more aware of your language and actions.
Don’t think it is ok to verbally beat up an exhausted chef at the end of service.
Learn to time and moderate your approach … please!
Encourage good eating practices for your team and offer opportunities and support for improving their fitness.
Please keep your chefs healthy in both mind and body.