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The bitter side of cooking



By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Some time ago, I wrote about food TV, and what it’s done to bring chefs into the light. From the über-talented to the wildly entertaining, and to cupcakes and desserts getting recognition by the hour, we have finally arrived. Some chefs have even been elevated to celebrity status.

But with this sweet fame and exposure to our industry and craft, there is a bitter side.

A few weeks ago, Switzerland, along with the rest of the world, lost one of the world’s greatest chefs when Benoît Violier took his own life in his home. Those closest to him said he carried a tremendous amount of stress over the fear of potentially losing a Michelin star.

In 1991, Bernard Loiseau, a French chef who had achieved the coveted 3-star rating from the Michelin Red Guide, killed himself shortly after the very guide that named him among the best in the world downgraded him from 19 out of 20 points, to 17 out of 20.

We know that suicide is a product of depression, and that this disease ultimately assists in the decision to take one’s life. But it seems these chefs, as well as countless others the world may have never heard of, take their own lives while at the top of their game, and cite an external, social pressure for their ultimate demise.

I am not on Facebook. I am not on Twitter. I am, however, on LinkedIn. I love it for networking and having conversations with others in my profession. I belong to several LinkedIn groups, some of which have thousands of members while others have less than 100.

One such group is called Cutting Edge Chefs. We’re small in numbers but vast in our opinions, I assure you. We talk about everything from how to season the perfect steak to why some bands are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

As we branch off and private message within our group, we form intimate bonds and friendships having never met each other face-to-face: something we considered unlikely before the tsunami that is social media came along.

A couple weeks ago our group lost one its founding members, Matthew McNulty, to suicide. He was 45 years old, a father and a chef.

Matty, as he was called, and I spoke often both in the group and also privately. When we would get involved in a heated group discussion and the temperatures would rise, Matty and I gravitated toward one other, and backed each other in almost every situation. Thanks to social media, we were fairly close, having never met in person.

As with virtually all suicide cases, depression is to blame. But those closer to Matty spoke in unison about the unprecedented stresses of his latest job: the physical demands, the economical demands, but most of all, the social demands placed on him and his craft.

There is a saying, “The wind blows the same for all of us, but it is how you set your sail that determines where you go.” We all choose our own career path, and could ostensibly get out at any time. But many of us also know we choose what we choose because of love, passion and talent.

We, as chefs, want so badly to please you, the guest. It’s why many of us are here. I care deeply everyday for the job I do and the product I put forth, but in the end, it is, after all, only food.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

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