Achieving work-life balance in the restaurant world is a tricky endeavor. Chefs typically endure 60+ hour work weeks, a high-pressure work environment, and the stress of building and sustaining a reputation. The kitchen is a space dictated by machismo, where showing or talking about fear is taboo and showing weakness is looked down upon.
This unfortunate kitchen reality has been a growing topic of conversation amongst chefs as they struggle to make life less taxing for themselves, their staff, and their loved ones. With last night’s news of French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier’s death at the age of 44, the topic is at the forefront of the industry’s collective consciousness.
Violier was a hero of cuisine, and was dominating his field: his restaurant, Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Switzerland, was awarded three Michelin stars and was ranked number one in La Liste, France’s ranking of 1,000 restaurants in 48 countries, in December. This morning, The New York Times reported that Violier “died in what appears to have been a suicide, according to the police.” A statement from the Swiss police detailed, “It would seem that he has ended his life with a firearm.”
Reacting to the reports, Boston chef Matthew Jenning expressed his concerns about the intense pressures of the industry at large:
“Our industry is failing these heroes of cuisine. They battle silent wars of immense pressure- both internal and external. The product and the passion becomes more important than the self. The bells toll today not just for Benoît,
his family and the family of l’Hotel de Villebut, but for the whole Michelin family. It is time we recognize that intense demands require intense analysis and antidote. Rest in peace, Chef. ‘Un bon repas doit commencer par la faim.'”
There has been an outpouring from the chef community, as chefs like Hugh Acheson and Andrew Zimmern express their sympathy and frustration about Violier’s death.
My industry makes me cringe. Too much stress. Utterly saddened by the death of Chef Benoit Violier. https://t.co/WU6UkSnvna
— hugh acheson (@HughAcheson) February 1, 2016
There aren’t many left like this. Benoît Violier was one of the last true “haute” chefs- pushing boundaries with discriminating technique and style- inspired by the modern age but grounded in centuries of tradition. A true G. Our industry is failing these heroes of cuisine. They battle silent wars of immense pressure- both internal and external. The product and the passion becomes more important than the self. The bells toll today not just for Benoît, his family and the family of l’Hotel de Villebut, but for the whole Michelin family. It is time we recognize that intense demands require intense analysis and antidote. Rest in peace, Chef. “Un bon repas doit commencer par la faim”. 🇳🇱🇨🇭
Very sad news about an incredible chef. RIP Monsiuer Violier https://t.co/SLrVUqBRCu
— Joshua Skenes (@saisonsf) January 31, 2016
Erik Desjarlais (former chef)
Every time I see a young cook use the Bukowski quote “find something you love and let it kill you” it freaks me out. Why on earth would you take advice from Bukowski? Think about that. Do something outside of cooking, please. Obviously cook, but find a hobby. It’s a huge world out there and letting it run and ruin your life is dangerous. See my “boat” post from last year. #benoitviolier
[via The New York Times]