For a Chef, 41 Years in the Kitchen Takes Its Toll

Being a chef, like being an elite athlete, tends to be a young person’s game, with crazy hours and injury-inducing physical strain. For midlife chefs, the challenge is finding ways to adjust the pace.

Comments: 98

  1. It's the same with bakers. Very hard work.
    My grandfather, and my father were bakers.
    So, when I dropped out of school I followed the family tradition as a baker.
    Lifting hundred pound sacks of flour, fifty pound cubes of shortening, on my feet all day, kneading and rolling dough, with a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, seeing all the delectable fruits of my labor.
    Working as a baker might have been the most important single event in my life, because it made me go back to school then Law School. Much better work for me
    and not nearly so hard on my body except perhaps for my rear end.

  2. I wonder how different restaurants and life in general might be if the Supreme Court hadn't invalidated the hours restrictions for bakers in _Lochner_ v. _NY_ a century ago. Would we all be working hours less punishing on the body? Would wages and median salaries have risen, along with the loaves of bread, baked by less stressed bakers?

  3. I worked for (only) five years as a baker, in my late twenties/early thirties. I stayed a year longer than I should have. I wore wrist braces to drive and sleep. At the end, I had huge ganglions in both wrists, excruciating tendonitis in both forearms and carpal tunnel in both hands. Oh, and I also dislocated an elbow, and was told to stay away from work for three weeks. Yeah, right! Looking back, it was still the most joy fulfilling job I ever had even though it took almost three years to recover. I took enormous pride in my work. I simply didn't know when to slow down.

  4. Same story here. 40 years this year as a pro studio musician. i used to be able to do long sessions no prob. now i keep it to 6 hours, as i find my physical abilities waning. but my knowledge base is much larger than my young team, so when they struggle with things i can show them time tested short cuts and ways to do things. time wounds all heals...

  5. Keep showing the younger ones the way, and tell them how unions work for all of them.

  6. Nick Lowe fan, I assume?

  7. Most good cooks are people who love their diners. Loving the person your cooking for makes cooking a pleasure, and the joy that good foods give to our loved ones is one of the main reason we cook. Oddly, we have lost most of that connection in our society and nowadays people almost always have to go out for food. It's too bad too, because I am sure many recall a time when eating out was very special, but home cooked meals were always the ones that would sustain us beyond their caloric content.

    Well, I have never had a meal cooked by Mr. Peel, so I can't really know for sure, but I bet even Mr. Peel's customers would rather have a meal prepared especially for them from someone who loves them dearly. I'm a dad, and I cook for my kids in my tiny apartment---I do what I can, with what I have, and I hope my kids remember how much I love them and how food played a role in that.

  8. With utmost respect, I'm not sure I get your point. What if the person who loves me can't cook? I know my dad loves me, but I don't think he's a better cook for it... I think I'd rather have Mr. Peel prepare my meal. However, perhaps it makes a difference that I really do think Mark Peel cooks to give people joy.

    In any case, I know your kids are very lucky.

  9. whether done by a home cook for family and friends or a well-trained chef in a white-linen restaurant for expense-account diners, cooking is as much about love as it is about eating. we cook for people we care about because there is a measure of communion that transcends any religious connotation. when my daughter was still a chef every plate she sent out reflected her desire to make her diners happy. after 15 years (preceded by 12 as a professional with major dance companies) that intensity combined with hard labor wore her out. she's back in school to complete a degree but still cooks for friends. cooking professionally is a calling best understood by those who know its siren song.

  10. As a professional cook with 30+ years under my knife, I must concur. I will add: There is nothing preventing a professional from preparing a meal with love for someone they have never met.

  11. Most chefs work 12 to 14 hrs a day six or seven days a week. The majority toil in obscurity. For every celebrity chef there are hundreds of extremely talented people working in the industry that you will never hear of. Forty years of working in the kitchen has gotten me 15 minutes of fame, two hip replacements, bad knees and a quadruple bypass.The only thing that I regret was not retaining an agent. I retired at 62.

  12. Unions work for all of us. Please encourage all of your employees to join their local union.

  13. You forgot to mention, that most cooks/chefs in America are paid poorly and have little to no benefits.

  14. Let's not forget waiters! I worked for Wolfgang Puck for 7 years of my 25 year waiter career and he would ask me to come in for "half a day", so I'm thinking 4 hours...but 12 hours later...

  15. We enjoy eating in local restaurants (metro Buffalo-Niagara Falls), and we always eat out during our quarterly, week-long visits to Manhattan.

    My philosophy of dining out is this: Good food and good service are what matters. The restaurant should provide quality dishes that are delicious and avoid any attitude at the door and on the floor.

    When eating in a "name" restaurant, my personal belief is that you are paying for the chef's vision. I have never thought that the "name" chef must be in the kitchen. If he or she has done their job well, the kitchen staff will be top-notch and up to the chef's standards, the dishes will be comprised of the best ingredients and prepared to the chef's recipes and design, and the staff will be honored to represent the chef and is pleased to have you in their restaurant.

    To me, restaurant chefs are like architects of an apartment building. They create the building, but they don't need to live next door to you. I think the food industry is too obsessed with the notion that chefs must be workaholic lords of all they oversee. Is it any wonder they burn out and suffer from pain?

    Chefs who have their own restaurant can have a long and satisfying career by trusting their kitchen staff. I don't care if the chef stirred the sauce, but I do care that the sauce is good and prepared the way the chef wants it to be prepared.

  16. You remind me of parents who would insist that because they had gone to school they had the right to tell teachers how to teach! You have eaten in many restaraunts.....and therefore you know how to manage one. Very presumptuous.

  17. What a wonderful world... no?

    Did you ever give any thought to what was happening to the people on the line where you got 'quality dishes that are delicious and avoid any attitude at the door and on the floor'?

    I am sure you think you paid enough for that quality, did you ever give a thought to how much went to the staff? One of the biggest overheads in a big city restaurant is rent and facility maintenance. Next comes food costs, and then comes staff costs.

  18. People in the restaurant business work slavishly long hours at slavishly low wages. Sure some of them do it for love, but, as the song goes... what's love got to do with it, right?

    Shows like those on the Food Network give the WRONG impression about the restaurant business to impressionable young people. They should have the decency to constantly proclaim disclaimers like those on cigarette boxes:

    WARNING: The restaurant business means Long Hours, Physically Hard Work, Low Pay and Never Having a Weekend Off.

  19. I worked as a cake decorator for an upscale grocery store in the mid-90's. With young children at home, I worked weekends, to avoid child care expenses, because, yes, the wages were low. Scheduled 6am-2pm, lucky to get a break, stayed til the work was done even if that was well after 2pm. The work was far from glamorous. And forget about a weekend off - that's peak time!

  20. I watch shows on the Food Network and have never gotten any impression that they encourage people to go into the restaurant business. Rather, I see these shows as providing inspiration for the home cook to expand his or her horizons in terms of cooking in one's own kitchen or for one's own family.

  21. In the late 1970's, I was enrolled in a multi-session class at Ma Cuisine, a cooking school affiliated with Ma Maison, the well-known California French restaurant in West Hollywood. The teacher was Wolfgang Puck, the then-chef at Ma Maison. Wolfgang was in his late 20's (as was I). His younger assistant for the classes was his kitchen helper, Mark Peel. I remember Peel showing up late for the morning classes, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. Hung over perhaps? The other thing that young chefs tend to do which is hard on the body (at least according to Anthony Bourdain in _Kitchen Confidential_) is to go out drinking every night after work.

  22. Dawn you would go out drinking too,after working from 10am till 12 pm{midnight }.The 45years I worked in restaurants as a chef,cook,waiter and bartender were very rewarding.I met many people who were kind and enthusiastic about my contribution to their enjoyment of the experience we shared.I dont doubt that Mr Peel had a drink or two,however he was probably late because his work shift ended at 1 am!

  23. I too have 35+ years in high end, professional kitchens and share a number of chronic condition w Chef Peel. I feel much better to hear that a day of bed rest is familiar to Chef Peel. Debilitating injuries, deferred treatment and no insurance is the norm in my industry.

  24. I'm going to be 50 next month. I've cooking in restaurants since I was 25. Now I own a small restaurant.
    I actually worked at Campanile in the late 90's. Mark was tired then. Life of a working chef. I waited 2 hours for an interview - he slept in because could - and then hired me.
    I'm at the end of another 15 hour day today. I love to cook. I am still amazed at how beautiful a plate of food can be. But it's a rough choice to pick this life.

  25. Watch your grammar: The years take their toll.

  26. I teach as a profession and that does not involve too much physical strain. Hopefully, my mind will stay sharp and I will have many more years that I can continue working effectively because that is what I enjoy. At the same time, I am very thankful for all the people, like cooks, bakers, builders, whose physical hard work make all our lives possible and enjoyable.

  27. Peter,
    Are you thankful enough to reject proposals to raise the Social Security retirement age?

  28. Peter,

    That is a very good point. I am actually supportive of raising retirement age. However, I think that for people who work in areas that are physically demanding, there should be positions and jobs that they can transit to that are more suitable when people are older. Just for myself, I cannot image an retired life.

  29. Peter, and just what would those transit jobs be, and who would arrange for them?

  30. Mr. Peel's story, like so many others, highlights the absurdity of trying to raise the retirement age ever-higher just because we are living longer. Yes, chefs have it harder than many others, but most full-time jobs will elicit some kind of chronic problems after 40 years that will in many if not most cases preclude continuing full time. Anyone on their feet most of the day will develop varicose veins, arthritis and foot problems. Even office workers will develop carpal tunnel or arthritis in their hands. And most of us don't have the option of moving into management. Many of us don't have the option of going part-time either. If we do go part-time, we'll likely lose our health benefits just as we start developing chronic health problems, which is why raising the age for Medicare seems particularly meanspirited. Unfortunately, politicians, who spend their days talking, glad-handing, making decisions, and directing others to do the work, don't have these problems and basically don't have a clue what old age is like for the rest of us.

  31. i know a 50-ish woman who is a nurse and does not have the strenght to work full-time anymore. But she cannot find a part time position. We need to re-structure work so that it's not all-or-nothing.

  32. I enjoyed this article but found it odd that it did not mention of the high rates of alcoholism and illicit drug use within the industry. (My guess is the drug of choice du jour is Adderall.) Regarding the more common injuries such as cuts, burns and trauma from slipping and falling down, an experienced eye can often spot a former line cook based solely on scars, a la Sherlock Holmes - it's a great ice-breaker.

    An editorial note [regarding "Booming: Living Through the Middle Ages offers news and commentary about baby boomers..."]: Baby Boomers started collecting social security benefits years ago. They are not middle-aged. They are senior citizens.

  33. Mr Csakany's editorial note is not accurate.

    The oldest Baby Boomers, having turned 67 this year, have only been collecting Social Security for 2 years, if they began collecting at 65. The youngest Boomers are 49 this year. While the group has been discussed for decades on end, it's still mostly middle-aged.

  34. I noted the absence of the risk for substance abuse as well.

  35. An elderly Frenchwoman told me a saying from her country: "Old age is a shipwreck." I feel the wreck part more each year, too. The chef is right to ease up on the hours and the lifting, but he almost can't do anything else, can he?

    And then to make this a TRULY American story, he lost his group health insurance when he closed his own place and became a "licensee" for an upmarket airport snack bar that a "hospitality" mega-corporation--Host International--wanted to put in at LAX. Without knowing the details, I suppose he is defined as something like an independent contractor and not an HI employee. You're on your own, buddy!

    At least, fortunately, he was able to find and even afford some individual health insurance, although with him being 58 and with all his preexisting conditions, it can't come cheaply. I hope Campanile's other former employees were all able to do the same, but something tells me they aren't as well-compensated as this top chef hopefully is. Could be a bit of a problem.

    Bring on the exchanges of Obamacare!--or "Covered California" as its Golden State incarnation has been dubbed.

  36. The popular "reality" food TV shows of today make it all seem rather glamorous with an often less than happy result.

    Culinary schools attract idealistic young men and women who then spend tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, for entry jobs that pay little more than minimum wage, often with no benefits or job security. The jobs are stressful, often dangerous, and the hours put the worker outside the normal social milieu.

    My son (now a physician) worked as a sous-chef in several very highly touted venues for about eight years. One day he had an epiphany. He didn't want to be a line cook when he was 50. Its a really tough job.

  37. Terrific piece. It makes us aware that cooking in a "fine" restaurant is as physically demanding as working the line in a traditional heavy industry was before robots and union-mandated requirements to ease the physical demands.

  38. I found it difficult to get past the teaser which, relative to age, compares a chef to an elite athlete.

    What the piece tells me is that anyone in a physically demanding position wears down over time; 41 years in the kitchen is like, say, spending 23 seasons at third base (Brooks Robinson) or 16 seasons at quarterback (Joe Montana) only in that age and physical injury - and exertion - take their tolls.

    It does the same for a steam fitter, carpenter, ballet dancer or firefighter, members of all professions - including the aforementioned chef and athletes, elite or not - find its members at some point in their careers slowed or stopped by the ravages of age. And, eventually, no one gets out of here alive.

  39. I completely agree. I do not understand the whining and complaining about how physical abilities wane over time. How could this possibly be news to anyone? I read this article but did not find a point to it, other than stating the obvious.

  40. I'm curious, have you read a lot of stories about the physical challenges facing aging chefs? I've read, I'd say, maybe 10 million stories on aging athletes, aging models, aging movie stars, but not one on an aging chef. We'll try to do better next time, sorry to disappoint.

  41. And yet, according to Conservayive politicians everyone should now work at least until age 70; after all they do. Wait a minute, they don't do any work so they can go one into their nineties.

  42. Hey NYT! I really enjoyed the article, but wasn't there a single female chef who had something to say about this issue? Essentially, the only women mentioned in the piece were Mr. Peel's current and former spouses. I'm sure there are a lot of ladies struggling with the physical demands of the professional kitchen as well.

  43. You couldn't find any female chefs for this piece? Would be interested to see if they experience the same rate of physical decline or are perhaps more likely to pace themselves earlier in the game.

  44. There are 3 chefs mentioned in this piece and 2 are men.

  45. very interesting, and for me, this article lays out my own career path. i began cooking professionally in 1974, at the age of 24, and finally got out of restaurant work at 37.
    i worked for 9 years as a chef/manager at a retreat house, and then at the age of 46, went to pastry school.
    i helped two dopes open a bakery, then worked at a high end country club, and for the last 12 years have been working at one of the businesses mentioned in the article.
    i'm 63, i stand on my feet all day, every day, i move 50lb bags of sugar and flour, and 55lb blocks of butter, lift up130lb bowls of buttercream (with a little help)
    i've had the tendonitis from using a knife, the bulging veins in the leg, the crippling back spasms that had me taken to the er on a board, the cuts, the burns.
    i joke about having to work until i can't do it anymore. I just wonder when that day will come. right now, i'm keeping up. i can outwork all of my much younger team members with one exception. and she's a crossfit addict and i sometimes struggle to keep up with her.

  46. It sounds like to me he did not take care of himself over the years. Many people do physical demanding jobs - construction worker, etc and don't destroy their bodies. He looks awfully trim. Wonder if he eats enough / gets enough protein so his body can regenerate. . Hope he's feeling better soon! Not enough sleeps is bad. I work 10 - 12 hours a day non physical work. But I get enough sleep even though it means sacrificing doing other stuff. :(

  47. Running a restaurant,especially if you are a hands on owner is mentally And physically exhausting. Having the time to take care of oneself is not always an easy option.

  48. As a 35 year culinary professional I can truly recommend the industry as a great way of life BUT with a few warnings: 1. You work when everyone is playing (holidays, weekends, late night, special events, etc.) 2. Always invest in quality shoes. 3. It took me years and several relationships to realize you need a "decompression period" from the kitchen to home (you can't talk to your wife like you do a server) 4. You have to be a passion-driven individual in order to make it work (test: do you get excited when strawberries are perfect in flavor, color, texture?) 5. NOT EVERYONE gets to be the Chef..only one in the kitchen...maybe a few sous and the rest make low wages for the work 6. There are no more old Chefs...they move on or out.

    It is an always on industry, as the saying goes,"You are only as good as your last meal". When I was an apprentice the prior chef was just retiring. Louis was a great guy BUT he was treated well at the private golf club, met members for golf and even took naps in the "cooks break lounge" between 14+ hour shifts. That doesn't happen anymore. In hotels (which are fairly stable work) you can't break since the down time is filled with meetings. It creates a high level of stress.
    I love it but it is not a career choice for everyone. You work, and if lucky create a "situation" that works. If you can it creates a great life...Remember," Stress is a cognitive process, all you really feel is physical exhaustion"...Exec Chef Sid Brodsky

  49. I loved your post and have to admit my heart rate went up at the thought of a perfect strawberry. I'll never forget the little wild ones we ate in Florence.

    I cooked in a highly rated French restaurant when I was young and have eaten at many a fancy place and spent many thousands on fine meals but there is nothing that makes me more excited than pulling a cucumber off the vine in my own back yard and eating it, or pulling a truly ripe apricot down and scarfing it.

    And yes, I am glad I left the culinary world many years ago and have been a symphony musician ever since (the post above about violin players is spot on and our take on the saying is that you are only as good as your last gig) but I still cook fancy dinners (usually after someone has made a donation to a group I play for) and spend a lot of time reading and writing about food.

  50. Every two weeks I get an osteopathic treatment regardless of how I feel.

    I am 64, sedentary,hate exercise, eat moderately and feel fantastic.

  51. what is an osteopathic treatment?

  52. Goooolie.....what makes him hurt more than anyone else.....take two alive and stop complaining...

  53. Great, after spending 40 years in a restaurant kitchen the answer is cooking at senior citizen centers...thanks. Older chefs have much to offer yet. Restaurant owners can't figure out why they have high rates of turnover in their kitchens? Cooks in their twenties want to learn and expand their experience. An older chef brings that experience along with stability and maturity. We no longer go out drinking with the crew at the end of a shift...we don't rage at wait staff or storm out of kitchens. We want to do what we love. A love that has been proved through many years on the job. As has been mentioned in previous posts, most chefs and cooks spend their careers in relative obscurity. We did not own 190 seat restaurants in LA nor get the offer to do fine dining in an airport. There is usually no insurance,no 401Ks extremely long hours , working through holidays and family never ends. At the end we are tossed out and expected to take whatever job is offered at a pay rate from the 1980s. The industry needs to wake up and understand that a graceful transition for older restaurant employees in necessary.

  54. anytime huge amounts of physical/mental repetitious work/play takes place is hazardous for us work-horses but this chef should count his blessings, at least obesity is not his main concern .... cooking/eating and hanging around food all day/night is certainly a work hazard for most of us foodies

  55. Mike--Thanks for an EXCELLENT article. As a foodie. I loved it. Well done.

  56. thanks for your kind words

  57. Thanks for this interesting peek into the life of a chef. I didn't know all this stuff.

  58. Hes got a good ten years on anyone that has worked consistently in construction. Life takes its tolls— so there you go.

  59. years ago i worked constuction with an old man from italy...this guy was in his late sixties digging trenches....his pace was slow and he never tried to lift to much...but at the end of the day..his trench that he dug was twice as long as the twenty something guy in the next house....the young guy would go balls to the wall then be wiped out...then he called in sick with a sore back..

  60. A fair amount of the physical deterioration can be related to stress of working at an intense level from the beginning, rather than pacing yourself. High adrenaline and cortisol levels from all-out effort can impact mood and lead to ultimate exhaustion, especially when there is little downtime for recovery.

  61. Experienced chefs do have other options that may provide better benefits and less stressful work; teaching, catering, food sales (for wholesale distributors), purchasing (for hotels or resorts) and consulting.

  62. Catering?! Have you ever catered? It's brutal in a whole different way. Darn near killed me before the age of 40!

  63. I mentioned catering only as an alternative to the daily grind of a work-a-day restaurant, not necessarily advocating it. I'm sorry to read about your negative experience, but, for those so inclined it can be very rewarding, and well-run shops can be very profitable. It is one of the few areas where a chef with extensive experience can use the full range of their talent.

  64. Catering is 10 times more arduous than a restaurant. 150-300 covers simultaneously is seriously hard work. Granted it's only a weekend gig for most but it's brutal.

  65. Great article. Would like to read more like this.

  66. My first restaurant job was as chef at Chez Panisse cafe at age 47.when Mark Peel was there for a while.
    I then was crazy enough to open Square One when I was 49 years old. I worked 6 days a week for 15 hours a day for 12 years and finally had to admit I was tired.
    I am now 78 and can work on my feet about 5 hours for a few days in a row but I am then in need of a few days off.
    Chefs are crazy dedicated people.

  67. Ms. Goldstein: As a former San Franciscan who fell in love with Square One--Thank you so much for your gift to us!

  68. So nice to see your name, Joyce Goldstein! My parents were big fans of Square One, and dined there often (well, "often" for a man who grew up during the Depression, eating out was still considered a luxury). My dad was so sad when you closed, he adored you and your restaurant. If the name Mike Mellor rings a bell (Mike and Mary Gin Mellor. he died a few years ago, my mom died back in '92), I know he'd want me to say hi to you. Thanks for giving them such pleasure!

  69. Let me add my voice to the chorus: I've been making Square One's corn pudding since your cookbook first came out, and I'm pleased to have provided myself with an opportunity to tell you so.

  70. Having just turned 58 myself and struggling to accept the facts of an aging body, I found this to be a fascinating article. I would be very interested to learn the specifics of Mr. Peel's "thorough" stretching routine. Thanks!

  71. I quit my job in advertising to become a pastry chef when I turned 30. Three months into my new job, I developed carpal tunnel syndrome from using a pastry bag for 14 hours a day. My hands just went numb. After physical therapy, wrist braces to keep my wrists from bending, and then steroid injections, I found some relief. But I realized I couldn't do this forever. Being on your feet for literally 12 hours in a row, 5 days in a row, is brutal, even at 30. A few years later, I left the kitchen for good in favor of having a family. I knew there was no way I could do both (as Mr. Peel discovered). By the way, Nancy Silverton, his former wife, was my pastry idol, and I loved Campanile all the way around, from the apps to the dessert. It was my number one stop when visiting LA and I'm sorry to hear of its closing.

  72. "He doesn’t take the time to visit doctors for his chronic conditions — though rather than tempt fate, he does pay for his own health insurance, having lost his group coverage when Campanile closed."

    Doctors are trained only to treat the symptoms described in the article, which consists mostly of pain-relief pharmaceutical products and perhaps, in some cases where the patient has good insurance, surgery. There are also claims that psychological treatment can help, which, again, is only symptomatic treatment. Doctors are not trained to understand the underlying cause(s) of the pain and discomfort, but treating the symptoms is very profitable.

  73. As a mental health professional, i am quite curious about the "psychological treatment" for torn rotator cuffs and carpal tunnel injuries. Do tell!

  74. If I had stayed in it, the restaurant business would have surely killed me. Without a doubt. I got out before I was 40. I miss the excitement some, but it was the best choice I've ever made.

  75. Most interesting. How about an article on the music world. Or you could change chef to violinist all the way through and come up with the same result from repetition injury etc., etc. Few musicians taken in a large group are free from these problems during their performing lives, and many have to quit, despite having excellent playing habits. Wear and tear, and not having control over schedule of performance can do real damage; and also the tigers of old age are indeed implacable.

  76. Or the construction world. Just take a look at those people digging, hammering, lifting, putting their bodies through excrutiating workouts day after day. The message surely is take a look at the other part of your life--your family, your friends, your environment--and take time to help your body heal every day.

  77. Mark Peel, thank you for so many fabulous meals and times in your most glorious restaurant Campanile. We are all waiting for your newest venture to open up at LAX and have been following your most recent ventures with complete interest. Campanile had a long long successful run for a restaurant in LA. It closed still 'on top.' So sorry to hear of the tolls it took on your body ( and apparently on all chefs according to this article ) but boy oh boy, please know that we all savored your wonderful, delish food. I'd be happy to rub your back in gratitude!

  78. This is indicative of the workplace. Abuse your body for the profit of the owner, whichever you might be. There is a price for your pleasure.

  79. The price is what we pay not to live in caves and have to hunt rabbits to eat. It's not about pleasure, it's about survival.

  80. this is why I try to avoid cooking if at all possible

  81. Admirable service. Extraordinarily meals, when I could afford them, and as a member of the service professions I always tipped well.
    I think this is a more glamorous and widely appealing article than tracking a typical charge Nurse for one 10-12 hour shift, seeing how that Nurse delegates and delineates the remarkably scarce resources assigned to a Charge Nurse at the beginning of his/her assignment.
    I would never ever leave a family member who was unable to advocate for themselves alone in even the best of our Nation's hospitals; particularly in late summer.
    When do the novice chefs turn over?

  82. So if they all wear out at 58 what do they do for the last 25 years of their life. Does no one pace themselves for a full life.

  83. I'm a chef of the same age as chef Peel and have had pretty much all of the same ailments. Hernia, carpal tunnel in both hand, bone spurs in my feet, surgery on both shoulders, plus a few other inconveniences. Why do you think that we cannot have a full life? We slow down professionally. I no longer work in restaurants but still enjoy cooking by teaching the craft to others. I cook for friends and family, travel, collect art, attend many cultural events, etc. I plan to retire at a normal age just as anyone else would do and live a full life.

  84. They are sent to a rural farm where they're fed, watered and walked daily in a humane environment for the 25 or so years they have remaining.

  85. I don't know....he looks a lot better than the 58-year-olds that i know who have been sitting on their bottoms for the last 30 years.

  86. At least Mr Peel has not succumbed to the fate of so many great chefs - obesity! It's frightening to see how heavy many of these young chefs are - they are a medical disaster just waiting to happen.

    As for no benefits, well, I guess it depends on the restaurant. The ones in which my daughter worked, certainly had/have them. Many of the wait staff choose not to avail themselves of them.

    The end of the evening drink for the kitchen and the wait staff is a long-time restaurant tradition, and it is usually just one drink while they're cleaning up. Only the wait staff tends to go out and party the rest of the night - they are notorious for using that night's wages for high living the rest of the night. That's one reason why they never have any money.

    It's a hard business and not at all family-friendly, but for those who love food, it is the only one they would ever choose.

  87. imagine the same scenario FOH! it definitely takes a toll both mentally and physically. add to the mix, staff, culinary staff, sales representatives, vendors and oh yes.....the guest(s)!!

  88. The benefit is that when you can no longer cook commercial, you can continue to experiment and blow your friends and guests away. Karma in that God lets you be even better in retirement.

  89. This is a great article, and as someone else commented, you could switch out chefs for so many other professionals, including FOH, bar keeps, construction workers, musicians, and actors. Add to that nurses and teachers. The list goes on.

    However, this doesn't need to be the fate of anyone passionate about their physically rigorous occupation. In the last 10 years, I have worked with chefs, artists (visual and performing), and yes, even construction workers and (what we consider) professional athletes via an occupation specific Pilates-based movement program. My job is to study the patterns used in their jobs and assist them in using their bodies correctly within their jobs. For a dancer or actor, this includes addressing physical alignment and starting from scratch with each new role. My chefs invite me into their kitchens and allow me to offer solutions to keep them healthy and pain free.

    Chefs need to understand how to be on their feet for 12-14 hour stretches. The question is, why aren't we training them physically in culinary school for long careers? Why aren't more smart owners inviting individuals who have made a study of movement, functional training, and alignment to work with their teams? And I don't mean destroying their bodies in the name of exercise (don't send your chefs/actors/violinist/construction worker to a cross fit class). Teach them to take great care of their bodies, do myofascial release, and to use and strengthen their bodies within alignment.

  90. Chef Peel's work ethic is very admirable. He devoted his whole life to his beloved passion. He worked his way up to what he has now, committed to owning his own restaurant. The devistating part off putting your all is there are consequences, yet he still continued on. Mr. Peel has many health issues that will last a life time, but I do not believe he regret one day of hard work, but he should take it easy from now on. He is an inspiration for all those who are working up to their dream job, work hard, but don't over work yourself.

  91. After 17 years spent behind the stove I can certainly identify with Mr. Peel's situation. I can still manage 4 - 5 long days a week but, the physical effects are much different that what I felt as a 20- year old who would end a 12 hour shift and head to the club for a night of partying only to start again a few hours later. In the last couple years I have developed loving relationships with small appliances like my mixers and food proceessors and my shoulders love me for it. I love what I do and couldn't imagine doing anything else. Still, as the months and years progress back massages, shoulder rubs and eucalyptus lotion have become a mainstay in my life.

  92. OK- I must say that at 54, I have been in kitchens for about 40 years. I feel great! The limited amount of sitting goes a long way as does resting in the Korean Squat position. I also put my feet up for 10 minutes every mid-day. It is great therapy. Yoga and light weight lifting helps as does eating very little processed food but eating a fair amount of rare or raw meats and fish. I stay away from "meds" and a have a good attitude. Ha Ha! I am in much better shape than most 54 year olds I know. I put in a 12 hour day in the kitchen and feel great, but when I do 6 hours on excel, I am cramped and exhausted. There is something to be said for being active all day.

  93. one more thing--so many young chefs drink high sugar energy drinks all day--ya wonder why they are fat! Those refined sugars sweel your fat cells making you suceptible to obesity. Drink sparkling water all day, eat a piece of raw fruit and some fish or cleanly raised meat. You'll do ok!

  94. During high school and summers home from college I worked with a great chef. I loved cooking under him, but I knew that profession wasn't for me. It definitely takes a toll on people. He would also tell me stories of the places he worked. An old place in New Orleans where the temp on the line was 120 or above, the place in New York where the chef would cook through the night on special event weekends, doing heroin instead of sleeping. It's the love of food and cooking that keeps them going through it all.

  95. I myself am caught up in this reinvent yourself world of thirty five year,s plus in the kitchen.I totally enjoyed reading the culinary related comment,s as I at fifty five have about one more tour in the battlefield left in me,hopefully it will lead me to a spa based job located near the ocean so as I can spend my time of. In peace and solace

  96. My son was a line cook for 10 years. In addition to burns, lacerations, and premature joint injuries there was alcohol and drugs. They sent pitchers of beer to the back at the end of the shift, and got a discount at the bar. Those who had to work 2 jobs to support themselves and their families self medicated with all sorts of things.

    It is odd. We need to eat, we enjoy good food, we praise those who make it, and we pay almost nothing for the skill, and think not of the stress of it all.

    Thanks to all of you who have commented here.

  97. After 45 years in the professional kitchen I relate to this story with every ache and pain that greets me as I awaken each day. I bless each one because it's cause was pleasure for my customers. :-)

  98. As the wife a chef who has been in the industry for 19 years, it's so nice to see someone speaking up about this. I am grateful for all the hard work my husband has done to provide for our family over the years, but it's hard for me to see the wear and tear it's had on his body.