FIRE IN THE KITCHEN #003 | KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL DINNER AND REMEMBERING ANTHONY BOURDAIN
In July 2018 TNM Creative Media Director Jamie Henshall and Executive Head Chef Gareth Howard orchestrated a sit-down dinner at Acre Eatery in Camperdown, Sydney for 200 chefs to remember the legend Anthony Bourdain and open up the conversation around mental health in the hospitality industry.
Jamie asked his friend and writer Kristin along to write about the event and her experience.
Kitchen Confidential – A dinner about mental health, remembrance and awareness by Kristin Jonasson.
I had the honour of being invited to a dinner raising awareness of mental health in the hospitality industry, a subject which is very close to my heart. Just like thousands of other chefs, waiters, managers and bartenders, I have worked in this industry until hitting a breaking point and have had to live with the guilt of letting my peers down which is an important subject.
Jamie Henshall from TNM Creative Media and Acre Eatery head chef Gareth Howard put this dinner on after the sad news of the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, they both felt that it’s time to break the silence, it’s time for a change. Enough people in our industry are suffering in silence from mental health issues. Together they invited 200 hospitality professionals to get the conversation started, to help them feel supported in a safe space.
Jamie who today runs a media company (TNM Creative Media) and Fire In The Kitchen (Supporting people in the industry), found himself at a crossroad a several years ago, where the kitchen was slowly consuming him and the life around him. It came to the point where his partner told him she had had enough and that if he didn’t change, she would leave.
Jamie knows that finding balance in the hospitality scene is a hard step; it can often feel like it’s all or nothing. But that doesn’t have to be the case. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If we all learned to look after each other more, talk to each other more, slow down and breathe the fresh air of the cold room, we could find that balance. Together we can change the culture of the kitchen and see and hear the people around us — no more suicides. A message that Gareth and Jamie wanted to get across when they decided to arrange this event.
Gareth who is the Executive chef at Acre Eatery in Camperdown opened the doors to the restaurant for us to come and eat, drink and listen to each other.
It was a fantastic night put together so well, with the help of the General manager Andrea Kudelova and an amazing number of providers and producers that sponsored the night, not to mention the talented chefs and front of house staff that donated their time to make this night happen.
As I entered the charming dining room at the Acre Eatery, I could feel the energy, an energy of anticipation, relief and respect. Normally if someone would invite 200 hospitality people for a free dinner and booze, I think most owners or managers would think you were crazy. But it was clear that there was a shared purpose of this dinner. The event was called Kitchen Confidential, a title that is close to all our hearts. The loss of the legendary Anthony Bourdain affected all of us.
In a way, this was our way of paying our respects. Anthony Bourdain, who has been such an inspiration to the hospitality industry. A chef that seems to have had it all, at the peak of his career and now gone.
How can a person that we feel is surrounded by the best people, fame, family and friends, feel like there is no other way out?
Well, sadly enough, once you start talking about it, more and more people mention that they have either themselves or know someone who has suffered from mental health problems. And still so fresh in our minds and memories is the beloved Jeremy Strode that left us last year. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians between the age of 15-45years old and the leading cause of death.
The dining room was set up with long communal tables, dimly lit with a live band playing. A warm and welcoming sight on a cold dark winter night. The evening was lined up with a stunning menu prepared by chefs that had volunteered for the night, with all produce sponsored by different producers. And it was good, I mean I’m sure the pressure was on when you’re cooking for 200 chefs, but it was delicious. Service was excellent, It was comfortable, familiar and generous. It didn’t take long until you felt at home in the room.
Gareth and Andrea kicked off the night by making us all feel very welcome and to extend special thanks to all who sponsored the event and volunteered to make this night happen. Gareth who was running the kitchen then went back onto the pass, and Jamie took centre stage.
Jamie had invited some amazing people that he has come across while working with the conscious chef club and man camp, most of who themselves worked in the industry, and they all had relatable stories to share.
The honesty and the openness almost brought the room to a halt at times, and I felt as even after Jamie’s introductory speech, there was a sense of a reality check in the place.
Men’s coach Matthew Hart aka “the Growing Man” and chef Mal Meiers opened the conversation, they both told of how they have come to understand that in a workplace where people listen to each other and care of one another, so much more is achievable and they put some critical questions to the room.
"When was the last time you put your phone away during staff meals and spoke to each other about what’s going on in your lives? Do you know your staff or colleagues? Do you think to ask how they are doing? How do you start the conversation, and what do you do if someone says that they are not okay?"
They told us how often when someone is suffering from depression, a moment of conversation can change the outcome of that day. A question, Are you okay?
We also got to hear from the “Body Magician” Bruce Scott who gave us all some useful tools on how to act in a moment of frustration, stress and when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Luis Fernandez taught us how to stand, and connect with our bodies on a day to day basis, and how to look after ourselves when we are at work.
Writer and speaker Kris Franken told us her story of how she had to find an alternative path to healing after years of hard work and trauma.
We also got to hear from Aya Larkin, the brother of the man who founded RUOK.
As the night went on, and people got more relaxed and full of good food and wine, there was a sincere warmth and appreciation in the room. An appreciation of everyone’s hard work, of everyone’s journey. Some people felt very emotional and other perhaps a bit confronted with the facts. But we all felt respect.
And by the end of the night, we were all like a big family. So thank you for all the people involved, and for everyone’s hard work to get this conversation started, for caring, for listening for making us feel safe.
PHOTOGRAPHY = TNM CREATIVE MEDIA + ARTICLE = KRISTIN JONASSON