The Discomfort of Happiness

I certainly don’t want to turn this blog into a personal journal about the trials and tribulations of my mental defects, even though it’s kind of what this blog has been. It’s supposed to be about being a chef, and all the things that go along with it, and that as I have learned is a big part of it.

I have discovered since my last post that there are a significant number of chefs locally that are experiencing or have experienced similar issues. I have received multiple notes from them outlining their experiences with depression.

I hesitate to use the term mental illness only because I think of people who have far worse problems than I do that have little chance of ever leading a normal and productive life.  Me? I’ll be fine.G

The restaurant property at 62 Beekman St. in Saratoga is available.  I kind of want it, I kind of don’t. I’m just not sure I’m ready for that right now.

We have a dog now. I love dogs. The dog will be good for me. She has taken a real liking to me. She’s my friend.

I’ve had difficulty in my life maintaining long-term relationships of many kinds.

You should go to Mio Posto in Albany.

Continuing my bit from a previous post naming people on my Facebook friends list I’d like to spend a day cooking with: Greg Kern because he’s a brilliant baker and pastry chef, and I need to improve those skills, and because he gets it. Jennifer Hewes, because I haven’t cooked with her in a long time.  Brian Malone I recall his genuine appreciation for good food and coo king and I’d love to reminisce about old times. Al Woodard, then we’d be grubbin’ on a Sunday, and because Al is about the nicest person I’ve ever known.

Perhaps it’s odd  that for the few days since writing my last post The Not-So-Great Depression I’ve really felt down.  I was exhausted after writing the bulk of the text in one sitting and I think I’m feeling some real cleansing effects from that exercise and will snap back in a day or two.  Some sunshine would help.

I see my therapist tomorrow morning.  As I entered his office for the first time he said I should sit wherever I was comfortable and my only concern was what will he be thinking about my choice, what will it tell him about me?  I sat in his desk chair.

I got myself some new eye glasses that are blue and match my eyes nicely. They are the pair I wanted last time but was hesitant.  I’m happy with my purchase.  The moral of the story: If you want blue glasses, then damn it, get blue glasses.  They’re also my first pair of bifocals.

I had a full hearing evaluation this week, If you want me to hear you speak into my right ear and avoid a whiny voice, like an Ed Sheeran song.  I have no Idea who Ed Sheeran is, I asked Jennifer to name one of those whiny-douchey male singers that seem to be on the radio these days.

I often don’t know what the Hell I want, but I’m getting closer to figuring it out.  I know I want to cook, I just don’t know the venue.

I suspect that when I cook again it will be better than ever.

Sometimes I just want to be left alone, sometimes I’m lonely.

Enough about me, tell me something about yourself.

If I haven’t said thank you to anyone for the kind notes of support, then I’m saying it now.  A lot of people have told me what courage it took for me to write and publish my last post.  Perhaps, but the real courage comes from finally admitting the problem to yourself.  If you’re feeling like things haven’t been right then talk to someone who can help or that can point you in the right direction.  Be your on hero.

 

 

 

 

 

The Not-So-Great Depression

This is a longer post than I usually write and I considered breaking it up into two or three posts but it’s an important topic and all my thoughts should be together.  Please read it all, and include the links to other named articles, I feel they’re an important part of this post.  “Additional reading here” are links for those who want to learn more. By allowing me to share this post with you as part of my self-discovery and healing I hope you’ll understand me better and you’ll also understand many of those crazy folks in the back of the house that just don’t seem to function like most people.  If you identify with what I’m experiencing then find a source of help (message me through Facebook if you like, I’ll chat with you in full privacy.  I’m no expert, but I’ll listen).  I started with my doctor and he was able to set me off in the right direction.

Speaking Out by Chef Daniel Patterson hits very close to home. I don’t mean close to home as in I know someone like that, I actually mean closer.  This could have been written by me.

I’ve had this article saved for a while, but hadn’t really read the whole thing until a week after officially being diagnosed with a long-term depressive disorder, given a prescription and a referral to a therapist.

I’ve been taking my medication for a few of weeks now and I can see clear glimpses of happiness, increased energy, and motivation. It’ll be a while before I see a marked improvement, but I’m on the right road, and feel a strong sense of hope that I have not felt for far too many years.

Depression in the professional kitchen is a big problem.  I suspect the profession in general lures a particular type of individual, and those of us that work in the industry are prone to mental illness and defect, compounded by long stressful hours in a usually hot kitchen day after day.  We’re under-paid, over-worked, and often under-appreciated. Many of us are haunted by the pursuit of perfection. We miss weekends and holidays with family and friends, we drink too much, use drugs, have a high divorce rate, and are typically out supporting each others’ bad habits late at night.  Long-term relationships with regular people are usually difficult to maintain because of our schedules, workloads, and emotional defects. Additional reading here.

I think about how my career and life has gone, and one thing I have come to realize over the past couple of months or so is that I’ve been chasing happiness for a very long time (or often running from it).  I have left a lot of chef’s jobs not because the job solely made me unhappy, but because I was unhappy long before I started any job in this business and I was simply seeking something else, something that I had convinced myself would make me happy. I am sure that there are a lot of fellow chefs that can make the same claim. We move around a lot, and I’ll venture a guess that the common thread is depression.

In my last chef’s position, especially, I exhibited most of the following symptoms of depression.  Many of them were also part of my regular routine for the better part of my career and my life as far back as I can remember.  I have had one session with a clinical psychologist, and part of my therapy includes writing down some of the shit in my head that pertains to my depression.  I have chosen my blog as a place to write some of it with the hope that some of my fellow chefs and restaurant workers (or anyone else that has felt like crap most of their lives) will recognize some of these symptoms and talk to someone about them. I found this list of symptoms here through an old Table Hopping post on depression in the restaurant industry where most of the comments show a lack of understanding what depression is.

 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness – I cannot say exactly what I’ve been sad about, but there are a lot of things in my life that I’ve never dealt with the way that I should have. The emptiness is evident in my recent lack of enthusiasm or from limited fulfillment I’ve had from any success.
  • Frequently feeling irritated, anxious, frustrated, or angry – Anxiety has always been a big part of my life that I’ve been able to hide well.  Irritation and frustration have always been commonplace for me as well, especially in the kitchen.  I have simply had a difficult time understanding why FOH employees rarely took as much interest in their jobs as I have, or why there were certain owners that didn’t understand the value of putting in a good day’s work in their own restaurant. The frustration often turned to anger, sometimes warranted sometimes not.  I often enough looked for reasons to get angry.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, helpless, or guilty – Guilt for sure.  Lots of it and for a long time. Feeling worthless? Not necessarily, but I don’t think I’ve ever put myself in place where I belong.  While I have often shown myself to be confident in the kitchen, I have always been filled with self-doubt.  I have always wondered if I am the chef that people say I am, and my abilities really as good as my performance.
  • Fatigue and decreased energy – I was always tired at Chez Nous.  It was definitely not from over-working or long hours. That was one of the easiest chef’s jobs I’ve ever had.  I could have worked harder, but what was the point?
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits – Chefs have strange eating habits anyway, that doesn’t mean we’re crazy.  Work with food as we do, and the hours we work and you’ll have offbeat eating habits too.
  • Inability to concentrate, remember details, or make decisions – Focus has been a big issue for a while now, but is improving as I recognize my issues and deal with them.  Tasks like writing a simple holiday menu seemed like a difficult job as my level of enthusiasm dropped.  I got to the point that caused me to put forth sub-par work.  Product ordering was also difficult, I sometimes would go without items rather than try to concentrate on the responsibilities of my job.
  • Sleep disturbances, such as sleeping more than usual or insomnia – Sleep disturbances aplenty.  It’s common for me to wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how things can go badly the next day at work.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable – This is became very clear to me at the end of my time at Chez Nous.  I had little interest in cooking, developing menus, or new dishes and recipes.  I didn’t care, and I got to the point that I didn’t care that other people didn’t care.  Quitting the restaurant life seemed like the only viable option.  That’s just starting to change for the better as I start to adopt a sense of hope with the acceptance of my illness and the seeking of treatment.
  • Unexplained body aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems – Most of the aches are due to many years of abuse to my body, some perhaps due to my mental issues, it’s hard to tell.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide – I have never considered suicide, it seems like too much of effort.  Honestly, I’ve certainly thought of it, how I would do it, and what the effects on others would be but I has never been a serious consideration.  I could not imagine being so deep in depression that I would take my own life.  As much as I feel poorly most of the time I still like life, and even some of the people in it.
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or movement – Years on busy restaurant lines have made it impossible to think and move slowly.
  • Reckless behavior – If you consider heading down to the walk in cooler at The Wine Bar every once in a while following a stressful event or dinner rush to have a beer as reckless, then yes.  Otherwise, no.
  • Substance abuse – Depends what you consider abuse.
Thanks for listening.

A Bridge of Snippets

Here’s a few feeble thoughts to bridge the gap between my last real post and the next real post.  I will tell you this, my next one will be my most personal to date.

Jenn and I like to buy our own cooking and kitchen supplies for home, we have specific tastes, style and requirements.

I’m a much better cook than administrator.

It’s often appalling that some people call themselves a chef.

How about a dinner party centered around my life in the restaurant business.  Some of my favorite dishes, and some of the best unfiltered stories from my experiences? Would you attend?

I don’t like cooked strawberries, raw are fine. I don’t like raw blueberries, I like them cooked.

People I either know personally, or are acquainted with on Facebook that I think I could spend a day cooking with: Jennifer Derby Colose, she’s my all-time sous chef, Matthew ‘Fuj’ Scher, we have not met in person, but he’s helped me out, and seems really nice, and fun to be around. He’d also bring good beer and/or whiskey. Robert Rymarz, his story is fascinating, I’d love to hear it while we worked. I’ll mention more in a bit.

Jenn, Theresa and I had a meeting and decided that ordering pizza from Caputo’s would be the best way to get dinner on the table.  We had separate cars, so Jenn ordered and was to pick up the dinner while I headed home. During the ordering process Jenn asked if two of the chicken wings could be taken out and packed separately so Stella could have them as we worry about her diary allergy.  The response from the young lady on the phone was “no, we don’t do that.”  As it turns out the owner knows how to correct a problem.  I wasn’t happy about the response so I wrote a review on their Facebook page.  Within 30 minutes I got a response from ownership and we had a conversation about what happened. He called the Wilton location, redirected the young lady’s thought process, offered to replace the order and promised a free order next trip.  I then deleted the review from their FB page and the owner asked me why. I said “because you took the necessary steps to correct the problem and as someone in the hospitality business I appreciate that, so you don’t deserve to have that review.”  I have a new friend, and will be enjoying their food again.

There’s a lot of new restaurants in Saratoga either just opened or about to open.  I can predict with almost pinpoint accuracy how things are going to go for each of them.

Small menu people!  Focus your efforts on fresh, thoughtful food.

I’ve had some really bad jobs.  What the Hell was I looking for?  I kind of know the answer to that, and soon you will too.

I worked briefly many years ago at the Seven Horse Pub.  One premise I was hired on was to reshape the menu which didn’t go well. The owner thought the bigger the menu the better. “No, you really don’t need 7 versions of your grilled chicken sandwich.”   The freezers were jam-packed with crap.

Define what kind of place you want to be, make it something that people want, stick to it, and do it well.

You cannot open a restaurant for everyone.

People sometimes ask me if I an interested in consulting on their project of opening a restaurant.  I tell them what I charge and I don’t hear back. Then things like this happen.

I’m not saying to hire me to ensure success, but get some experienced professional consulting and follow the advice you paid for.  The restaurant business is very difficult, so don’t just think you can wing it.

Make your servers learn the menu no matter what kind of restaurant you have.  There’s not much more annoying to a chef than to have a server come into the kitchen and ask a question that they should know the answer to.

Rob Handel, because he does some really interesting shit.  Mohammed Mohonni Malih, because I would like to improve my Moroccan cooking.  Mehmet Odekon, because I would like to improve my Turkish cooking, and because I miss him.