By Jennifer Eschrich
On February 1 the culinary world was shocked with the loss of one of its stars, chef Benoit Violier, in an apparent suicide. Violier was the executive chef of Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville, which had been given three Michelin stars (the highest honor Michelin grants), and was recently designated by La Liste as the best restaurant in the world. The recent tragedy has brought attention back to the issue of mental health in the restaurant business. The long hours, pressure to perform at perfection level, and lifestyles of many chefs (including drug and alcohol use), make the restaurant life a breeding ground for mental illness that is ignored because of the “toughness” that is expected from its workers. A reoccurring comment in this growing conversation is how, in the age of blogs and Yelp, people are so quick to critique the food they eat without realizing the amount of work that the person behind the food put into it. So here are a couple of stories about the chefs behind the food:
Many of us enjoy watching the high energy of kitchen shows, but never take into account the stress that the celebrity chefs are actually going through to perform and maintain the image that they have worked for, not to mention the stress of maintaining a life beyond the kitchen. On programs like Iron Chef America, Cat shows us that she is in control of her cooking and her kitchen – not a small feat for an industry dominated by men, especially then. In, Cooking As Fast I Can, chef Cat Cora details her rise to celebrity on the Food Network, and the personal life that she often put on hold to be a part of the growing food empire. We see the side of her that has struggled to keep her marriage afloat and her alcohol abuse at bay.
I read Life, on the Line when it first debuted in 2011. At the time I was living in one county, working in a kitchen in another, and taking classes in yet another (the perfect time for audio books). This book brought me to a blubbering mess at least twice while on public transportation. An award winning chef who couldn’t taste his own food – that’s the situation that chef Grant Achatz was in in 2007. He had won honors from Food & Wine and the James Beard Foundation, just opened Alinea, his star restaurant that takes the art of food to a new level (look up the pictures!)… and was diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer. The illness does not consume the book. We hear about his adolescence and culinary training, the building of his restaurant, and his relationship with his business partner and co-author, Nick Kokonas. But it is Achatz’s passion for his food, despite his temporary inability to enjoy the taste that makes this book the inspiration that it is.
Get these great chef memoirs, and listen to them while you’re in the kitchen. Pour yourself a glass of wine. There’s no greater combination than good books and good food!