Who takes breaks?

Breaks are one of the things that the industry can agree on. We don’t like them. Except for smokers, you won’t find a lot of Chefs that will sing the praises of taking breaks. How did we get here? It seems that, with such a difficult job physically, and so many hours to put in, that Chefs would be taking any chance they could to sit down, chill out, and eat. That is definitely not the case.

A common idea in kitchens is that taking breaks is a sign of weakness. As with everything, the industry is all about who can go the longest, do the most, need the least. Breaks are small fries when you look at how we eat, how we drink, how we work, how we live. It’s no wonder that so many of us are tired, burned out, feeling crappy. It has become an absolute standard in the kitchen to deprive ourselves of even the smallest bit of self care- 10 minutes to sit down and rest, think, play with your phone, eat, whatever. I wonder how much difference it could make to our bodies and minds to take this time? How much difference it would make in how we treat each other if we try harder to make this time for others, rather than making it a show of ego how long we can go and expect those around us to follow suit.

I have long been pro break. I like to go outside. I bring my lunch from home like a dork. If all i get is a bathroom break, you better believe that I am going to stay in there for 5 minutes and enjoy the calm and quiet. Does this make me a better cook? I think so. Does this make me a better person? Definitely. I have been in this position, and it’s not always a conscious choice that you make to push through- some days I would find myself 8 hours in, without having eaten, gone to the bathroom, taken a drink of water, even looked up from my project. Where does that time go? It’s like being in a focus tunnel. Those days I feel empty, gutted out from the stress of complete focus and the speed of work for so long. Not to mention that I am actually empty- of food, water, breath. I don’t think that this is when I do my best work. This is when I forget things, when I start to make mistakes. I do my best work when I am calm, fed, rested, and keeping myself centered in both my breathing and my thinking. Have you ever noticed that when you haven’t eaten, your brain leans toward angry so much faster? Why spend the whole shift that way? It doesn’t make sense to me. But I still do it.

I have this same discussion with Chefs and industry folks everyday about so many topics- mental health, addiction and drug use, long hours, stress, damage to the body from repetitive motion and too long on your feet. I want to add breaks to the conversation, if not only for the benefits to ourselves from taking the time, but for the benefit it would bring to those around us to hear us say- take 10 minutes. For the atmosphere we could create of people looking out for each other, for the team building that comes from someone recognizing that you are a person, and acknowledging you and your needs. I believe that it could start with a simple break. Who knows where it could go?

Laura Mcwilliams