Alex Hall: “It’s about creating a culture for the future”

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The chef ambassador of FairKitchens discusses why chefs need to look after themselves - and each other - in this time of pandemic.

The importance of good mental health in the hospitality sector during these tricky times is the topic of this week’s The Restaurant Podcast, which features Alex Hall, executive chef at Unilever Food Solutions and chef ambassador at FairKitchens.

In it, Hall discusses the important work of FairKitchens, which was formed to help create a more resilient and sustainable hospitality industry and which provides tools, support and training for foodservice and hospitality professionals.

“As a sector, it’s an incredibly tough environment,” he says.

“FairKitchens was set up with the mindset of supporting the sector and helping people to feel they are not alone and really to help create an environment where we can all develop and prosper.

“We’re all brought up in this environment where we’re taught to cook but no one really focuses on how to become a manager and how you become a good people person.”

Hall describes professional kitchens as being naturally stressful environments, which he says can lead to additional issues. He cites research conducted before the pandemic that found high numbers of chefs were doing more hours than is healthy and were at risk of burning out.

“It’s sort of like this badge of honour that you’ve worked hard but in actual fact it’s an old-school culture and it’s about shifting that culture,” he says. “It’s about creating a culture for the future.”

He discusses how the pandemic and the two lockdowns have for many professional chefs taken away valuable routine in their lives and that to help with their mental health, chefs should look to find a different routine.

“Our day to day has been taken away from us, we were all suddenly in this very different world, there’s a huge loss of purpose, suddenly I’m not doing what I’ve always done.”

“If we don’t have that form of routine, we can create some form of structure to take its place, even if it’s learning one thing from YouTube. Pick something every day and give yourself a target to work towards.”

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