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On Anthony Bourdain Day: Chefs, Fans and Organizations Talk San Antonio’s Kitchen Culture

click to enlarge Lea Thompson Today, June 25, would have been Anthony Bourdain‘s 63rd birthday, and the culinary world has worked to make the day an annual celebration of the late chef’s life, work and legacy.  

Despite Bourdain‘s massive cultural following as a chef, TV host and author, the industry hasn’t changed much since Bourdain’s best-selling book Kitchen Confidential was published in 2000.

Restaurants still demand long hours, demanding physical labor and offer high-stakes ways of relaxing – especially through alcohol or drugs – that can exacerbate mental health or addiction issues, but Bourdain got people to start talking about it.

“I think his death surprised us all because he led the life that we all want: to travel the world, get to know different cultures and try different foods, and he really inspired me to do that too,” said Lola Rodas, owner of the Hungry Traveling Mama blog.

Rodas, who works as a mental health counselor in Austin, emphasizes the importance of listening and looking for red flags.

“There were so many times, looking back, there were so many signs, where he’s practically screaming ‘I need help, but I don’t know how to get it,'” she said. “But as difficult as it is, people can only do so much.”

Though mental illness and addiction struggles are not exclusive to the food and service industry, kitchens throughout the nation are only beginning to address it.

Heard, a local nonprofit sponsored by the Saint City Culinary Foundation, provides industry workers with mental health and addiction recovery resources.

The organization launched in San Antonio in 2017, and has since expanded to Austin, with plans to open chapters in Houston and Dallas later this year.

Heard hosts weekly support group events on Mondays at Brick in the Blue Star Arts Complex, where attendees are provided with a network of emotional support, and can access local resources like professional treatment, and learn about general wellness.

“Sometimes it’s not just that people are struggling with addiction,” said Heard founder Joel Rivas. “Sometimes it’s people dealing with depression and having a series of weeks where they don’t want to get out of bed.”

Rivas has received messages – he responds to Facebook chats, texts and emails at all hours – from people who need someone to listen or are looking for support. As a former industry member,

“The first step is just telling someone, ‘hey, I need some kind of help.’” Rivas said. Within the last two years, Heard has helped connect people with healthcare professionals, find treatment and consistent support.

Though the support process is anonymous, the organization is struggling to find the funding needed to maintain and expand their services.

“One of our biggest hurdles is letting people know we’re here and for the price of a cocktail, they can make a huge difference in someone’s life,” he said.

click to enlarge Courtesy of Restaurant Gwendolyn

The award-winning chef left kitchens and found a new generation of fans as a host for culinary shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, where he often expressed remorse for his role in glamorizing an unhealthy, workaholic lifestyle.

But for many in the industry, Bourdain left behind a mixed legacy. The chef shed light on the true difficulties within restaurant culture, but he also exploited them for financial gain.

“I miss the old Bourdain, before his stardom,” said chef Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn. “What Bourdain reported about the crush and the passion [within the industry], the violence and heat and humor, those facets are alive and well. We are still the pirates he described.”

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