Archive for January, 2012

Chefs For CALM Dinner

Tuesday I wrote my last post. I woke up to the news that missing Chef Kevin Boyle’s body had been found in a garden in south London, it had been there for sometime following his death at his own hand. As I said at the time I didn’t know Kevin or work with him but his story saddened me greatly. I had the day off, a rare and precious thing these days, so some work on the new spring menum an afternoon shopping with my girlfriend and a relaxing evening at home were on the cards.

The thing is I couldn’t shake the news about Kevin, that anyone should feel they could not turn anywhere for help and had no choice but to end their life is in itself tragic, the fact that his body lay undiscovered until many months later is truly heartbreaking. Through out the day my thoughts kept returning to Kevin and that evening when I returned home I decided to write a blog post on it. I just wanted to take what was in my head and commit it to paper (or in this case a screen). I posted it, I tweeted it and then it just sort of took on a life of it’s own. I was inundated with retweets and comments on Twitter, depression and suicide have touched so many people’s lives and people were glad that someone was willing to highlight it. I thought maybe something positive could come from this terribly sad end to a once bright and promising life.

From the first mention of this idea on Twitter there have been offers of help forthcoming. Chef’s have responded, in most cases simply with the words “I’m in”. Chef’s give their time to help any number of worthy causes, given the chance to help with a problem that exists within their own industry they haven’t hesitated. Cheffing is a tough job, we know that and we accept and in a way it’s what drives us. However we can not ignore that the stresses and the pressure it places on those who wish to succeed and reach the top.

Yesterday I met with Jane Powell the director of CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity who work exclusively with men who are suffering from depression. Given that suicide is the number one cause of death amongst young men in this country there is very little help available for men to prevent them taking this drastic step. She told me about the work they do and the struggles they face to provide a desperately needed place for men to turn to. They operate on a very small budget, receiving some funding from The Lottery and Comic Relief to help them deal with callers under 25 but receive no funding what so ever that is earmarked to help men over 25, ironically had Kevin called CALM they would have had to fund the cost of handling the call from private charitable donations. Even then they can only afford to keep their phone lines and text support service open till midnight.

On the 30th of April we are going to hold a Chefs for CALM dinner in central London. Plans are still at a very early stage but we hope to provide 200 guests with the chance to enjoy an amazing meal cooked by the best chefs in the country and hopefully raise a lot of money for a cause that so desperately needs it.

We want to raise the money needed to extend the helpline and text service till 3am, given the hours that chefs work having those extra 3hours could make a very big difference to someone seeking help. We also want to work with CALM to help their counsellors better understand the unique stresses faced by chefs.

More than anything by having the very chefs that these young guys aspire to be cooking at the dinner and backing this cause we want young chefs to know that it is ok to admit you need help and that there is somewhere they can turn for help from someone who is familiar with what they are going through.

If you can help in any way then please email us at CalmDinner@Gmail.com

Please put the type of help you can offer in the subject line (e.g. Chef, Front of House, Supplier, Sponsor etc) and John Comyn (@CityJohn on Twitter) who is organising the logistics will be in touch.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, it’s just a sign that we have been strong for too long. -Elizabeth Gilbert

Over the last few months I have seen the campaign to help find Chef Kevin Boyle develop on Twitter and through other media, social and traditional. I have retweeted calls for help and checked the website http://www.FindKevin.Co.uk to see what news there was. I don’t know Kevin, I have never met him or worked with him, those who have speak very highly of him as both a chef and a person. His story caught my attention if I am honest because of his link to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who mentored him on the first series of his TV show 15, when Kevin was one of the young people looking to train as chefs under Jamie’s guidance.

This morning it was reported that Kevin’s body had been found at the bottom of a garden in Coulsdon where it had lain for some months, his death is being treated as a suspected suicide. For some reason I simply can’t put this out of my mind, I can not simply get on with my day.

Suicide is the leading cause of of death for men under 35, think about that for a minute. Think about all the warnings you see to prevent you shuffling off this mortal coil, from what you eat, what you drink, how you drive, even warnings aimed at people who are attempting to prove Charles Darwin right and remove themselves from the gene pool by racing the lights on a level crossing. The government spends millions every year on campaigns to save people from causes which result in far fewer deaths amongst young men than suicide.

A number of years ago I suffered kidney failure, over night I went from being an extremely successful self made tribute to the Celtic Tiger to being an invalid who couldn’t get out of a chair unaided. As my illness progressed I watched the trappings of my success being taken away from me one piece at a time. I saw my business collapse, my car and boat being repossessed or sold to try and meet my obligations, with no sign of a cure or even a correct diagnosis as I got weaker and weaker. In the last few weeks before I was evicted from my apartment I would lie awake at night in total darkness (I was unable to pay my electricity bill but refused to actually move back to my parents house until I was forced to hand over the keys) and while I never thought of taking my own life, I did pray that maybe I wouldn’t have to wake up the next day. I could never have taken the drastic step, because I know how devastated my family would have been, but had there been a button to press to simply slip away in my sleep I can not honestly say I would not have pressed it.

This was never due to a lack of support or of people to turn to. Yes, there were so called friends who dropped away when the good times stopped but those who were my friends before the money and are my friends today were there throughout not only willing but begging me to let them help me. I refused, too proud, too stubborn but mostly too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about how depressed I was.

In today’s world men dare not show any sign of what they perceive as weakness for fear of being ridiculed or thought less of. In sport we laugh off our injuries, we make light of any pain and we “walk it off”. When we deny we are suffering when there are obvious physical signs how can we admit to suffering from depression which has no scars, no bruises no plaster casts of proof? For any man that is an almost impossible ask but for a chef it is almost unthinkable.

Cheffing is a macho world, it’s tough, it’s demanding and it has absolutely no room for weakness. Getting smashed on service and coming back for more is a badge of honour. You don’t show you’re struggling, you don’t ask for help, to do so is going to get you precious little in the way of sympathy and more likely a barrage of piss taking comments from your colleagues. While these are not usually meant with any bad intentions they will still be made. It’s what we do, we’re chefs. we are tough, we laugh at people who complain they are exhausted by the time Friday afternoon rolls round in their office jobs. We strive to show how tough we are in a kitchen “want me to do 4 doubles on the spin? Fuck it mate give me 6, make it interesting”. This is not in any way an indictment of chefs, the overwhelming majority of those I have met are great blokes.

The thing is when you look at it as a job choice, cheffing with it’s long unsociable hours, hot often cramped working environments, extreme physical demands, high pressure and low pay should stand out as an job that could (and should) trigger bouts of depression but Health.Com doesn’t even list it in the top 10 jobs linked to depression (although waiting staff do get a mention). Maintenance workers, teachers, sales assistants and financial advisors are all in there but not chefs! Why? Is it because flogging jeans at The Gap is more likely to cause depression than doing back to back 18 hour shifts in a kitchen? Of fucking course not, it is because CHEFS DON’T COMPLAIN. We bitch and moan constantly but about trivial and petty things, we will bang on about how some wanker split the hollandaise, how clueless our front of house staff are, what fucking twat on table 12 ordered the steak well done or any number of other things but you will never hear a chef publicly admit to his peers that he is feeling depressed and unable to cope. Why do you think so many people crash out of this game? It is because they never admitted they needed help before it became too much.

This must stop, this tragic story of Kevin Boyle must not simply fade from memory, something must be done to give people in our industry somewhere to turn before this happens again.