What has your career looked like up until this point?
From being a paperboy to a shop assistant, to managing a shop at 16-years-old, I fell into a career in sales and marketing, working across many different industries including retail, mechanical engineering, insurance, travel and then eventually fell into hospitality. I’d worked in busy bars in Bournemouth, finishing my day job at 5pm, starting in a bar at 6pm, and done a brief stint working front of house, but I ended up falling in love with the industry when I started working as a sales rep for a food supplier for fine dining restaurants in the south west. It was my first intro to chefs and the industry and the behind-the-scenes inner workings – I was mesmerised by it.
It was my first intro to chefs and the industry and the behind-the-scenes inner workings – I was mesmerised by it.
Why did you launch The Burnt Chef Project and what was your main aim for it?
When I was in my late 20s, I was the captain of a rugby team, I was married, had two children yet things just didn’t feel right. For years I’d been looking at other people and wondering why my life was bad – I guess it was a form of depression. One day I went home and asked my wife out the blue for a divorce. She asked where it was coming from and was of course taken aback, and that prompted me to get some CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to try and figure out why I was feeling this way.
During that process I realised other people were experiencing those feelings but we weren’t talking about it in society. So, I wanted to help others by raising awareness for mental health issues and focused on hospitality as for a long time I had seen friends who had experienced difficulties but were unable to talk about it. I took it upon myself to hassle a few of my hospitality friends to have their photos taken to raise awareness and people started contacting me and asking how they could help.
I wanted to help others by raising awareness for mental health issues and focused on hospitality
It really escalated and I was doing it alongside my sales job. I hosted a talk with the local Mind charity and ended up with 65 local hospitality pros to learn about mental health. We raised some funds and unbeknown to me word started to spread. Then Covid hit in March 2020 and with that I spent all my time trying to fight off anxiety by building the The Burnt Chef Project. I went back to work in October 2020, quit my job, and I’ve been running the project ever since.
Are the issues on the drinks side of the business the same as those in the kitchen and front of house?
The long hours are one thing that is shared across all sides. On the survey we did in May 2021 we found that poor diet featured on both front-of-house (FOH) and chef side; little time for relationships was more an issue for chefs than FOH; but 66% of FOH staff were finding sleep was more disrupted; alcohol dependency for FOH was double that of chefs due to the nature of being surrounded by a self-soothing tool and the culture of after-work drinks.
What do you think are the main changes that need to be made in the way hospitality workers are looked after?
In terms of positives, when you work in hospitality you become part of an extended family. You’re quite often surrounded by creative individuals and if you look at that from business perspective we want to be able to encourage their creativity, allow our teams to come up with their own ideas, contribute effectively, make mistakes without the risk of losing their job – we need to understand as a collaborative effort it is nice to have your ideas heard and for people to feel valued and respected.
You’re quite often surrounded by creative individuals and if you look at that from business perspective we want to be able to encourage their creativity
As a result of Covid and the resource crisis, businesses are changing structures and hopefully gone are the days where 7 or 8 days in a row is acceptable. We just completed a study of 2,500 people and the highest rated things are work/life balance and feeling valued. We need to be mindful that our teams are getting rest, Whatsapp groups aren’t contacting people on days off, even simple things that are part of employment law such as 11 hours between shifts. If you’re in a senior position and working above and beyond as a badge of honour, you’re further perpetuating that culture – we need to start looking out for each other in different ways.
To learn more about The Burnt Chef Project please check out www.theburntchefproject.com and consider supporting them by purchasing merchandise or joining their sponsorship programme.