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Physical and Mental Disorders in the Professional Kitchen

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

While this may be a touchy subject for some please keep it open minded and understanding.


I am curious to hear other people's experiences or stories about kitchen workers at any level (head chef, line cook, dishwasher whatever) who suffer from physical or mental disorders, whether it be yourself or a coworker. I am someone who suffers from terrible anxiety and have a speech disorder and while I just get up and go to work everyday (now at a line cook level previously at a sous level) without thinking about it I don't ever sit back and reflect.


I never give myself any credit and when I think about it it's amazing how much I have to do just to get up go to work. My anxiety is terrible by average standards but I have made huge strides from a few years ago in high school where I couldn't even function. I can't compare my anxiety to an "average" but it's very tough just to stop worrying about work non-stop for me. My speech disorder is so embarrassing that I only vocalize when I need to, not to mention that being so quiet people often wonder what the hell is the matter with me and think I'm just unfriendly or cross. This has been tough especially at new places because even when I perform very well like I currently am at my new job even my boss is thinking I'm weird because how little I talk but still tells me what a good job I'm doing. I don't tell anyone because I can fake it enough to get through the day but it still hurts when people think I'm an @sshole for not initiating conversations or keep one up, or when I act like I don't want to socialize and have fun with everyone at work when in actuality I do but am too embarrassed. When I say something that comes out wrong and people laugh because they don't know I have a lot of trouble speaking it really eats me alive and just reinforces the insecurities. FOH can be the worst about this at times.


I am bringing up the subject because I used to work with a deaf line cook who I ran into at the supermarket. I asked him how he was doing since the restaurant we used to work at was sold. He wrote on his pad and pen that he hasn't been able to get another cooking job (over a year) since our place closed, and he was very talented cook. No attitude problems, no alcohol or drug issues, just got up and did his work everyday and did it well. I feel bad for him because I can only guess his lack of being able to find a cooking job for over a year is an employers reluctance to hire someone who is deaf, for practical reasons (safety?) or just inability to want to work with someone who is deaf. At times I feel like I want out of kitchens because of my anxiety and speech disorder but when I see someone like him I can't say I have it as bad because at least you can't see my struggles in an interview. At times I feel like I to quit but at the end of the day my passion for wanting to get better and learn as a chef motivates my drive more than any obstacle that's in my way.


Would love to hear others experience about physical or mental disorders in the professional kitchen.

post #2 of 14

I take vodka for my anxiety...


I've worked with a deaf Kitchen Porter, I think a deaf cook might be a problem in a lot of kitchen settings.


I say just let your freak flag fly though, kitchen workers tend to be quite "unique" anyways. I'd say 99% of people that meet me think I'm a douche bag, but that doesn't stop me from running my mouth.

post #3 of 14

Deaf would make it a lot harder in the kitchen.  A friend of mine that used to work for me was deaf, and it worked out okay because he was very good lip reader and could speak pretty well.  Mental stuff...well, almost everyone that works in a pro kitchen has something wrong with them!

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
post #4 of 14

I Personally have rather severe PTSD which normally is not a problem in the kitchen except for a few weeks every year when I tend to sink into depression but normally I come out of it after a few days. For me my biggest challenge came while working at one of the top theme parks in the world for a few years. My restaurant had the only full service bar on property and was situated for prime seating on the lake where nightly fireworks displays were held. the kitchen was right up against the lake and for a few weeks I tried to deal with the fireworks. That was not a good Idea, Lets just say rapid explosions and lots of fire tend to set me off. Eventually I learned to just go stand in the walk in for the 15 minute show, the problem was that because of where we we're located this was the busiest time of night and I would disappear every night like clockwork at 8:58. After a few weeks of this and some upset coworkers I just decided to say something about it at a pre-meal one day. I explained why I did what I was doing and how PTSD was affecting my working habits. Once they understood they were totally fine to the point where sometimes I'd step into the walk in during the show and there would be a beer waiting for me lol. I think for anyone who has any type of issues it's important to be able to recognize them and explain what's going on. Most of us in the industry don't mind helping other chefs out if we know that they aren't just looking for a way out and also work their asses off. I'm 28 now and a few more years removed from some of the issues and no longer working the same company so no fireworks, but it's still a struggle some days. Honestly if you need some considerations ask for them but always start off by  trying to push through.

post #5 of 14

well I am a line cook with a hearing loss. I used to be deaf.

so statements above …. ask away LOL if you need to…..because I disagree.

it takes commitment, fitting into the team…..much more than you'd expect.

not anyone would be able to do it, no.

post #6 of 14
This is an interesting thread to me - I'm a pastry student with cerebral palsy and I have yet to meet anyone else working in the back of the house with a physical challenge. My first experience in the industry was a six-month unpaid internship that I secured to make sure that I could handle the physical demands of culinary school. I loved going in every day, and I never had any problems doing things around the kitchen. I left a few months after the owner told me that she couldn't take me on as a paid employee because she didn't have workers comp and she was afraid of liability. Not really what I wanted hear, but I was getting ready to start school anyway so I just shrugged and moved on.

I was accepted into one of this country's top schools, but then when I voluntarily disclosed my disability only as a courtesy, I was quickly rejected because of safety concerns. It was a tough few months after that, I really had to consider my future in the industry and try to determine if anyone would give me a shot.

After successfully completing a year of pastry school at a community college, I decided to sue the school that I was rejected from. I'm not one of those people that threaten a lawsuit at every corner and I sure hope I never have to do that again, but I knew I wanted to fight for a spot at my dream school. Things went well, and I'll be starting there this fall.

My experience in this industry didn't start off well, but I still absolutely love it and can't imagine doing anything else. I've been able to get a job that I love, and hope to keep moving up after school. I know there will always be challenges in this industry for the physically/mentally challenged, but I'll just take them a day at a time! wink.gif
post #7 of 14

it really takes a lof when you've got a disorder , to get there where you want to be.

people usually handle out of fear, not being familiar with the disabilities we have. 

then we get discriminated…..often even at work….and yet, we keep going, persevere, fight for it.

post #8 of 14

I wouldn't tell any future or present employers about suing your school.

post #9 of 14

well, I would!!! because i understand what it is like to be discriminated because of having a physical disorder.

post #10 of 14

If you consider OCD and ADHD, explosive tempers, etc. a "disorder", I know LOTS of folks in the industry with disorders!


Originally Posted by PastrySMC View Post

This is an interesting thread to me - I'm a pastry student with cerebral palsy and I have yet to meet anyone else working in the back of the house with a physical challenge. 

"We" have a lot of experience in this area.

My has wife worked in Special Education, or with "Special Needs Adults" for the past 15 years.  We are both Certified NFAA and USA Archery Coaches, and have worked with dozens of people with unique challenges. One young man had C.P. and we spent months to teach him how to shoot one-handed. He held the bow in one hand and anchored the string in his teeth.  He is one of the best shooters we have ever coached and eventually got himself an invitation to be on the US Paralympic Archery Team.

The Co. my wife currently works for operates an day care for developmentally disabled adults, clients range from from deafness to C.P. to Autism and Down Syndrome.  When she suggested holding an archery class one day a week for them, the Administration freaked out. "No way, they can't do that!"  Three years later it is the most heavily attended activity the offer.

For the past few weeks I have been volunteering, on my one day off of school, teaching basic food prep to some of the clients. They are "not allowed to" use sharp knives or the oven and stove directly but they can scooping cookie dough, assemble sandwiches, decorate cookies and cupcakes, etc.

But to speak to your specific situation.

There is a student on our school with C.P. and he has changed a lot of peoples opinions about people with "disabilities". Granted he is a bit slower moving around, but there is nothing he has not been able to do, and even excel in some areas, and finishes his requirements in the amount of time allotted to all students.  Really, I have not seen the administration _have_ to make any special accommodations for him.

I did see 2 students from another class mock his distinctive gait after he passed by them in the hall.  I was already on my way to tell them how un-cool that was, when one of the Chefs also saw it overtook me and proceeded to escort them straight to the Administrative Offices.  When they emerged about an hour later it was obvious they had been sufficiently admonished.

I say "good on you" for challenging your school.  A school is a learning environment, what better place to explore, push your boundaries and learn exactly what you are capable of.  Granted, you may not be the perfect fit for a fast paced line, but pastry, heck yeah! I'm sure you will eventually find an employer who will value you for what you can do, not what you can't.

post #11 of 14

I know this topic is kind of old, but I don't think anyone should be ashamed of any kind of physical or mental challenge you may have when working in the culinary or pastry profession. Due to an accident in the kitchen, I am mostly blind, living in a world of seeing only light and silhouettes, and yet I still continue to pursue what I am passionate about; cooking for people and shooting archery as a para-athlete. 

post #12 of 14
Mmm, interesring subject.

About two years ago I had this one girl work for me. Her work was great, but she showed no emotion, just a stone wall face all the time. Drove me nuts, could never tell what she was thinking, never knew if anything I said upset her, or if any new technique I showed her excited her. She would have made one helluva poker player..... Finally I took her aside and asked her what was going on.

She said she was born with this condition--I forget the medical name of it, and this is why she shows no emotion. Long story short, she worked with me for about a year and moved to a catering co. where she is doing great.

And then there was the guy with eplipsey. Never disclosed it, and one day I'm talking to him, his eyes start fluttering, he crashes to the floor and has a grand mal siezure. Freaked the living (deleted) out of me and the crew. Nice guy, but he was too embarassed to come back to work, despite my phone calls.

My personal opinion on the subject? Mental or physical disabilities that could affect job performance or co-workers performance should be disclosed to the employer.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #13 of 14

We always had one or two dishwashers who were just barely functional.  It was a great fit for them.

post #14 of 14

Until a few months ago, I had a line cook with extremely severe anxiety, and regular manic-depressive swings. One of the best cooks I ever had, and was sorry to see him go, though the job was causing both him and I a lot of stress.


He was always very extreme, and I mean that literally: when his emotions were under control, he could send out 5-star covers faster than anyone else in the kitchen, and never missed even the tiniest detail; but, when he couldn't keep his anger, depression, or anxiety in check, he was a complete mess, and could be set off by the tiniest thing. Had to send him home probably two or three times a month because of his mood swings reducing him to a pile of either nerves or barely-contained rage. He eventually got put on mood stabilizers, which helped his disposition a lot, but made him so tired all the time that he slept through his alarms and would be late at least once a week.


He was an excellent guy, great cook, and still is one of my best friends, but I honestly don't think a professional kitchen is the right environment for him, or anyone with those kind of challenges. At the end of the day, the problem always came down to him being too unreliable because of his disorders. I don't know if I'd ever refuse to hire someone with a similar list of disabilities (especially if it was clear they really wanted the job), but I would try to impress how stressful and emotionally taxing the work can be.

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