The high-profile death of a former Jamie Oliver chef has prompted a renewed effort to combat the stigma surrounding depression within the restaurant and catering industry.
Dave Ahern, head chef at Ben's Canteen in south London, is to stage a charity dinner in London in April, following the death of Kevin Boyle, one of the original apprentices in Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant, who was reported missing from Purley, south London in October and whose body was found in Coulsdon last month. Boyle had suffered from depression for 10 years, although his death is as yet unexplained.
The dinner, which aims to raise funds for charity CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) will bring together a string of top chefs to highlight the issue of depression within the restaurant industry. CALM is dedicated to reducing the high suicide rate among young men, currently the biggest killer of men under 35.
Ahern told Caterer and Hotelkeeper Boyle's case highlighted a deeper issue around depression within the catering industry that needs to be addressed.
"Cheffing is a macho world. It's tough, it's demanding and it has absolutely no room for weakness. It's something that needs to be looked at and attitudes need to change - the industry needs to become more accepting of the fact that it's OK to admit that you have a problem," he said.
"We want to raise £70,000 to help CALM extend its helpline and text service until 3am seven days a week to allow chefs to be able to seek help after service. We also want to work with CALM to help their counsellors better understand the unique stresses faced by chefs."
The charity dinner is set to take place in London on 30 April, with chefs including former MasterChef winner Mat Follas, chef-proprietor of Wild Garlic in Bridport and Russell Brown, chef-proprietor of Sienna in Dorchester, both in Dorset. Mark Poynton, head chef at Restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge, and Ben Spalding, head chef at Roganic in London have also pledged their support.
Spalding said that he wanted take part because of the tragedy of Boyle's situation. "I have seen so many people in the industry suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, which I think is interlinked with depression. I lost my father to alcohol addiction, which was brought on by the pressures of work."
Former Catey Special Award winner Peter Kay, who is consultant to Hospitality Action's Ark Foundation, the charity devoted to providing awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse within the hospitality industry, welcomed the dinner - although there is no suggestion that Boyle suffered any form of alcohol or drug problem.
"Anything that raises awareness of depression is a good idea, the industry needs to be reminded," he said.
"There is a definite link between depression and alcohol and drug addiction. When a chef goes to his employer suffering from cancer he is given every support to get better. Why should an illness like depression be different? We have seen many situations where professionals in the industry have sought help from their employers and the support has been superficial at best. Attitudes need to change."
No date has yet been set for the inquest into Boyle's death.
By Kerstin KÁ¼hn
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