Food For Thought – Chefs Giving More Than a Thought for Mental Health
It’s significant how the recent spell of good weather has increased the number of happy (and slightly more tanned) faces around. Perhaps not surprising though that sunny weather makes us happy, after all, it is estimated that, in Ireland, one-in-15 people are affected by SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – a form of depression experienced between September and April. According to Mental Health Ireland, SAD can be very disabling to some during winter, who need constant treatment in order to be able to function, and other people experience a milder version called sub-syndromal SAD or ‘winter blues’.
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
These mental health issues above are just a couple that needs to be highlighted more in Ireland. Mental health in general needs to be discussed more often, more openly, for every person, and across every industry.
When Anthony Bourdain committed suicide on the 8th of June this year, it sent shockwaves that were felt across the globe and in every kitchen. Chefs in every country commented on social media on the tragedy of his passing and a need to refocus efforts in kitchens to become more open environments where mental health concerns are addressed.
Bourdain’s suicide also highlighted that this is not the first time the industry has been shocked by such events. In 2016, in Switzerland, Benoît Violier of Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville, a three-star Michelin restaurant, committed suicide, and in 2003, Bernard Loiseau, the celebrated French chef of Loiseau’s restaurant, La Côte d’Or, in Saulieu also took his own life.
“Sometimes chefs just don’t recognise the problem and push past it because of the stresses of the job. It’s part of being a chef,” commented Daniel Hannigan, sous chef of Richmond in Portobello and founder of Food for Thought – an initiative set up as a series of dining events, which offers Irish Chefs the platform to showcase their talents whilst raising funds for Suicide Prevention Charity, 3ts, and awareness for Suicide Prevention in Ireland.
Locks Restaurant on a blissful summer evening was the venue for the most recent noteworthy event. Connor O’Dowd, co-owner of Locks, was hosting the charity dinner with Daniel Hannigan and a special team of chefs for the occasion including David O’Byrne (head chef) from Richmond; Chris Maguire (head chef) and Ondrej Havlik (pastry chef) from Locks, and Graham Dodrill (head chef) from Peploe’s.
“I have two main objectives with Food for Thought, I want to make money for charity to help people and I want people who attend to walk away feeling good after sharing a great meal together,” explained Daniel.
The event in Locks was highly successful and as Daniel admitted himself, it was down to the energy and efforts of the entire team and also praised the support given to him by Connor O’Dowd.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen events like this involving the food industry in Ireland. It’s brilliant,” said Connor. “Working in kitchens does mean long hours in sort of confined areas and I think they could potentially be breeding grounds for mental health issues, so it’s great to have an initiative like this highlighting the need to make sure they aren’t. It’s bringing the issue to light.”
“The event was also great as it was a break from the norm, to an extent, because we were working with some chefs we didn’t know that well and they came in and we all got on really well. It was just really nice. We all recognised while we were there that it’s such a great cause and getting to work with other chefs like that and share stories, it’s actually really powerful,” Connor commented.
“I think mental health, in general, is not spoken about enough. I know myself in my own restaurant that it is fairly obvious if there is someone who is not their usual self because I am there every day and I know all my staff. If you feel you can speak to your head chef or sous chef and you can go to them with an issue then that’s all the better. I suppose that wouldn’t have been so easy years ago, but thankfully that has changed in most cases. I know my staff have no problem talking to me.”
The fourth Food for Thought dinner will take place in Mulberry Garden, Donnybrook on September 24th and confirmed chefs for this include Ciaran Sweeney, Forest & Marcy; Damien Grey, Heron & Grey; Killian Crowley, Aniar in Galway; Aoife Noonan, Glovers Alley and of course Daniel Hannigan himself. Patrick Ryan from The Firehouse Bakery will be providing all of the bread and the evening will be hosted by Luke Murphy and Niall O’Connor as front of house.
I’ve been following what Food for Thought have been up to and when Dan mentioned it to me, I said I’d definitely be into doing it, said Ciaran Sweeney from Forest & Marcy. “I love doing events like this where you work with other chefs in the industry, I’ve done a few of them now. It’s great for the industry to keep in touch with your peers. I mean, there was too much in the past of everyone against everyone; it’s changed now. There is less competitiveness now, people are just trying to learn from everyone else and help each other. That’s the way it should be really.”
“The industry was tough when we started out. It is still is tough, don’t get me wrong, I would never tell anyone that it’s not. But now, in general, people realised that there should be different approaches in kitchens as to how things are done and how they’re run, to make sure you get longevity out of staff too,” Ciaran continued.
“It’s the only way a restaurant can be consistent; it’s the only way food can be consistent. There is no other way, I don’t care what anyone else says. One person can’t keep a consistent restaurant going, they have to be surrounded by a team. It is the only way you will survive in this industry.”
Explaining the work ethos in the kitchen in Forest & Marcy, Ciaran said,
Chatting to my team and making sure everyone is okay is really the only way I know how to work. Meeting with people and if you sense something is happening, chatting to them. If something happens in service and things get heated in the kitchen then we don’t let it leave the kitchen that night. It’s been my rule from day one. Don’t let it fester. Otherwise, it builds up and it prolongs the situation. It’s better to deal with the issue on the spot. Not everyone is perfect every day and we can’t all have great days all the time.”
“Hanging out with my daughter helps me put things into perspective. It’s all quite irrelevant when I am looking after her. My partner works so I mind her on my days off. It takes you back to reality and how things are relevant and irrelevant. It’s only food at the end of the day and everyone just tries their hardest; that’s you can do really,” said Ciaran.
Tickets will go on sale for Food for Thought at Mulberry Garden on EventBrite on Monday 6th August.
Dee likes to describe herself as a professional eater! Taught to cook by her father and sisters at a young age, starting a life-long passion for cooking and the enjoyment of food. Soon after qualifying as a journalist, she began a career writing about food and travel.
Her passion for Irish food and the people behind it – those who grow, produce and cook – has only been amplified over the years and led her to many roles in the industry including; member of Irish Food Writers’ Guild, chair of Slow Food Dublin, organiser of Slow in the City food festival, curator of Food on Board at Body&Soul Festival, and a judge of Blas na hEireann and Food&Wine Magazine Restaurant Awards.