Blood, Sweat & Tears: A Kitchen Pirate’s Life

943884_10156461862970195_3349797162122064160_nBy:  Chef Rick Powless

 NOTE:  I have chosen to delay posting this article as the news of the day saddened and numbed me, and reminded me of my dark past, of my demon.

Today (Friday June 8, 2018) I privately shed a tear.  My heart ached, and I felt like my best friend had passed.  I sat here, stunned and in disbelief.  I was at a loss of words when the reality set in.  How is this possible, in an age where we have become more aware of our surroundings, of those around us…of our circumstances, can a life be taken away, and not just taken away but a life that touched our souls?

Today Anthony Bourdain, the Chef who called himself a “cook”, world traveller, cultural learner who believed that food was a vehicle to bring people together, to bring culture to the forefront left this world.  Today, kitchens all over the world mourn for the loss of a comrade, a brother, a fellow “pirate”.

Today, Chefs and cooks will share a hug, an extended handshake and a pat on the back.  They will be thankful for those who stand by their side on the front lines in every restaurant, bistro, diner…every kitchen.  The bond between these “pirates” will get closer, grow even stronger, the family will hold their heads high knowing what we do is what Tony wanted this industry to become; honourable, accountable and genuine.

Today, Anthony Bourdain took his own life.  Anthony was a product of an industry that showed no mercy, took no prisoners and destroyed lives.  The strong prevailed, the weak faltered.  Through it all, we are soldiers with a mission.  We prep, cook, clean, share music, share laughs and share stories.  We create menus, hire and fire staff, we bleed, we burn, we prank the new guy with mopping the freezer floor, or fine chopping AP flour.  We build a team with newbies, the experienced and the willing, we deal with FOH, managers, owners, food suppliers and health inspectors.  We deal with customers daily.

So, why do we do this?  Because we love the comradery, the laughter, the joy…the food.  The food that puts a smile on our clients’ faces.  The happiness and the laughter and the satisfaction fills us with pride.  In kitchens, we have finally found our family, our home, the only place where we are accepted for the choice we have made as a career.  The rewards financially aren’t there.  The long hours we endure would age a normal human being.  The criticisms from our surroundings isolate us but bring us closer as a family.

The industry is plagued with disease and illness.  Drugs, alcohol, depression as well as loneliness.  We carry the weight of OCD, ADD, ADHD, PTSD among other ongoing.  Relationships are strained daily, and we become jaded to what is considered normal.  We are normal, in our own kitchen world.  Our relationships are a matter of convenience and are morally questionable…well, at least to the unknowing eye.

I was always able to stave off alcohol and drugs.  Yes, I drank but I always knew my limit.  Drugs was never an issue for me.  I struggled to keep a relationship because of the hours I would keep.  My son once mentioned he wanted to be a Chef like me.  I said, “No, you don’t”.  Back and forth we went, until he asked me why I would discourage him from following the path I chose.  My answer, “You like girls, right?  You’re working New Years Eve.  You’re working Valentine’s Day.  You’re working Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter as well as nights and weekends.  Your weekend will most likely be a Monday and Tuesday or Tuesday and Wednesday.  You will struggle to find someone your age who will be loyal and devoted to you when you’re never there”.  I got through to him.

Loneliness was the norm for me which lead to depression.  A past I could not control, nor asked for lead to depression.  That was my demon.  OCD is a staple in all Chef’s DNA which in a kitchen on a Friday night can make a Chef’s head spin into chaos.  What we face each and every day, we know that the cook standing beside us on the front lines in every kitchen may be facing the same struggles, the same challenges and we together we support and encourage one another.  We become a machine of efficiency and productivity.  We become one with our knives, our pots and pans…our menu.

Our customers, the FOH, the managers, the owners as well as the suppliers and the health inspectors may never know our struggles and may not care.  But it is real and what we do together as BOH keeps us sane, even if it is only temporary, keeps us feeling like we matter to some cause and it brings us closer together.  Kitchens are a tight knit family and once you are in, we care for one another and we support each other with all that we are…no matter what is needed.  Because that’s what we do as Chefs, as cooks.  We matter…to each other.

Anthony Bourdain.  We are making change.  We are making a difference.  You’d be proud.  Thank you.  Rest in Peace.

Dedicated to:            Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018

  • All Chefs, Cooks, Prep Cooks, Dishwashers & Busboys.
  • Everyone suffering from OCD, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, Depression & Anxiety.

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