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Members of P.E.I.’s culinary industry are working to make sure the death of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is not in vain.
A group of industry members held a ceremony Tuesday honouring the late chef, while also calling on the province for more mental health awareness and resources in P.E.I. restaurants.
Bourdain’s suicide on June 8, 2018, shocked much of the world. Celebrations honouring the birthday of the 61-year-old host of the award-winning CNN series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” were held around the globe Tuesday.
Terry Nabuurs, chef/owner of Georgetown’s Wheelhouse, said he was inspired by Bourdain as a teenager, without even realizing it at the time, in choosing to cook.
However, Nabuurs said people must also be aware the risk of making Bourdain into a martyr.
“We must exercise caution and make sure that we are honest about the reality that Anthony Bourdain died by suicide because he felt there was no other way out,” said Nabuurs. “We need to learn from this and help people know there is a better way.”
He said the topic unfortunately hits home for many people, especially in the culinary industry, and spoke of his own friend who committed suicide earlier this year.
Nabuurs also called out some of the harsh realities of the culinary world, noting it is a notoriously transient industry with people moving in and out of jobs at a rapid pace.
Alcohol abuse exacerbating underlying mental issues, stress from working conditions, financial strains and lack of support are also all too common, said Nabuurs.
“We must exercise caution and make sure that we are honest about the reality that Anthony Bourdain died by suicide because he felt there was no other way out. We need to learn from this and help people know there is a better way.” - Terry Nabuurs
He listed a number of suggestions for the industry, notably asking government to start a small health and wellness team for the industry. Although unsure of exactly how it would look, Nabuurs suggested a model similar to the school system’s where a team could travel across the province to provide mental health resources and suicide prevention training.
“If we’re going to continue to thrive and market ourselves as Canada’s Food Island, I believe it’s both a necessary and reasonable ask. We have the potential to be at the forefront of wellness in the culinary industry for this entire country,” said Nabuurs, who also suggested restaurants start creating a culture that promotes physical health.
For example, restaurants could stop using alcohol as positive reinforcement in a rewards system, such as buying a round for the kitchen staff after a busy shift. Instead, that money could be put towards health resources or financial training for workers to learn how to build credit, apply for a mortgage and properly budget for the boom and bust reality of a seasonal industry.
“Although (the industry) can be fun by times, the days of the pirate ship are over,” said Nabuurs. “Things need to change now so the next set of kids coming up don’t burn out, retire or worse by age 35.
“We need to do our part to change otherwise we run the risk of a person like Anthony Bourdain having died in vain.”
Holland College counsellor Randell Duguid described those suggestions as phenomenal ideas and provided resources at the event such as the P.E.I. Helping Tree.
She challenged individuals to take a proactive approach to mental health, while also stating Bourdain was honest about his struggles and isolation.
“He talked about how he had an incredible life on the outside and he felt bad being able to speak about being depressed because he knew, in theory, he had this incredible life,” said Duguid. “That’s such an important message, no matter who we are or what life we’re living, these are challenges we all face.”
The Anthony Bourdain Day was announced by long-time friends of Bourdain, chefs José Andrés and Eric Ripert.
Chef Ilona Daniel, of the Culinary Institute of Canada, said she felt there should be an event on P.E.I. to recognize Bourdain’s impact.
She said he was much more than a chef.
“He’s someone who brought the world and the world of food to all of us,” said Daniel. “(We thought) it was also important to take such a tragedy and such a loss and do something positive about this and continue the conversation, talk about mental health and how we can support our brothers and sisters in the industry.”
Chef Irwin MacKinnon, president of the culinary foundation of P.E.I., also noted it was a day of mixed emotions for many in the industry.
“Certainly the world would be better place if he was still in it. Unfortunately, he’s not, but he lives on in everyone’s memory,” said MacKinnon.