For many in the restaurant industry, Anthony Bourdain’s death hit close to home, so a group of hospo friends decided to build something positive out of the sadness.
When Dariush Lolaiy got home after work at his Auckland restaurant Cazador late one night in June, he saw a text from his head chef Brendan Kyle informing him of some sad news — Anthony Bourdain, a hero to many in the industry, had died. Suicide was suspected.
“Our minds were blown,” recalls Lolaiy. “The next day we got to work and we’d both brought in copies of the Les Halles cookbook without mentioning it. I didn’t even know Brendan had one.”
While his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential is more famous, Les Halles, published four years later and named for Bourdain’s New York restaurant, is just as influential for many chefs. While flicking through it the next night over a beer with their friend Conor Mertens, head chef at Orphans Kitchen, an idea began to form.
“They’re all true bistro classics,” Lolaiy says of the recipes. “From places where the waitstaff write the order on the tablecloth, chuck it down on the table and splash the jus around.”
With Rebecca Smidt, Lolaiy’s wife and business partner, who runs the front of house at Cazador, they decided to gather together their industry mates for a collaborative dinner in honour of Bourdain, where all the dishes served would come from the Les Halles cookbook, and proceeds would go to Lifeline.
“I guess it was about trying to take a dismal situation and make something out of it rather than just be disappointed by it,” says Smidt.
“We wanted to make it like a family dinner — all welcome.”
Listen to Rebecca and Dariush’s interview with the Dietary Requirements podcast.
The prevalence of mental health issues in the hospitality industry in New Zealand and abroad has been in the spotlight recently. Last year the suicide of high-profile Sydney chef Jeremy Strode was a shock to many on both sides of the Tasman, and a few months later, an Auckland chef and friend of Kyle’s, Matt Bing, died after a battle with depression.
“I don’t want to describe it as some sort of insidious, dark underbelly of the industry, because it’s not like that, but it’s just bloody hard work,” says Smidt. “It’s very competitive, the financial incentives are less and less, the demands and expectations of customers are more and there’s no way of getting off working like that without compromise — which is going to be your health, whether mental or physical.
“It is an absolutely awesome industry to be in,” she adds. “It’s a welcoming and supportive industry. We just kind of realised we were maybe losing sight of that in the midst of all the business. This is an opportunity to get together and just check in.”
After the idea was formulated, they sent out an email to everyone they knew in the industry to gauge interest — either in working at the dinner or coming along as a guest. The response was overwhelming and the restaurant was soon fully booked.
“I’ve never participated in an event before where every single supplier has just gone, ‘Oh that sounds awesome, do you need anything?’ We didn’t even ask anyone — that was really cool,” says Smidt.
“There’s something about the Anthony Bourdain suicide that has been more real than normal celebrity happenings. I think people have felt a bit shellshocked by it and do want to catch up.”
Antipodes, Huia, Quina Fina, Mineral Wines, Cave du Cochon, Hallertau, Sawmill, Artigiano Imports, The Cellar and Tradecraft all donated product. Chefs Kyle Street (Culprit and Lowbrow) and Michael Meredith (Eat My Lunch and until late last year, Merediths) joined the Cazador team in the kitchen, and Xanthe Webb (Coco’s Cantina), Emmy-Lou Wellacott (Orphans Kitchen), Dani Donovan (The Engine Room) and Simon Benoît (The French Café) helped Smidt take care of front of house.
The night started with oysters, a nod to a formative moment in the young Bourdain’s life when he tried his first on a family holiday in France, revelling in his brother’s revulsion. Next came pâté de lapin (rabbit terrine) served with bread and cornichons, which was followed by blanquette de veau (a retro white-on-white veal dish) accompanied by gratin dauphinois and frisée aux lardons. Dessert was a delicious prune clafoutis.
In addition to raising funds for Lifeline and providing an opportunity to catch up and check in, it was hoped the dinner would be a platform for idea generation around how the industry could get a support network in place.
One of the guests, Morven McAuley from Tradecraft, even coined a new phrase, says Smidt. “She said we should make a regular occasion of getting together and it should become known as ‘Bourdaining’ — like to Bourdain is to get together to appreciate good food and good company, and look out for each other. I like that.”
Check out our recent Dietary Requirements podcast, where we talk to Rebecca Smidt and Dariush Lolaiy about mental health issues in the industry, sausages and other stuff.
- The Restaurant Association of New Zealand has formed a wellness action group that is working with the Mental Health Foundation and other groups to develop resources for those in the industry. A campaign will launch the resources in October/November. If you’d like to be on the mailing list to be alerted when they’re available, email email@example.com.
- The Restaurant Association has also partnered with St John and the Lewisham Foundation to design a training programme to address mental health issues in the workplace. The Mental Health First Aid for Hospitality workshop is being held in Auckland on 24 September and more are likely to follow.
RESOURCES AND WHERE TO GET HELP
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Check out the Sick Leave podcast, where Shaun K Anderson, general manager of Peoples Coffee, chats to hospitality industry folk about their mental health journeys.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.
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