Duck Pâté en Croûte. Tête de Veau. Lou Fassum. These strange terms — borderline alien for most Americans — are three classically prepared dishes that chefs from all around the world conjure up in the cramped caverns of their kitchen domain. Blinking away sweat, chefs chop, sauté, broil, season, and serve these dishes, and many others, as mechanically as their lungs breathe in the smoky kitchen air. They know the innards and outtards of what they’re handling, every motion has a purpose, every garnish has its place. The daily life of a world-class chef is foreign to most of us. It’s fast-paced, profane, unrelenting and a little bit gross.
Anthony Bourdain loved it all.
“The business…attracts ‘fringe elements,’ people for whom something in their lives has gone terribly wrong,” Bourdain wrote of working in restaurant kitchens in his 2000 book, “Kitchen Confidential,” the result of his claim-to-fame article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” which appeared in “The New Yorker” in 1999. “Maybe they didn’t make it through high school, maybe they’re running away from something. Or maybe, like me, they just like it here.”
A Recipe for Depression
Bourdain was a storied chef disguised as an everyman television host. He traveled the world, made friends wherever he went, made fans whenever he was on. He became a sensation, an icon — what Indiana Jones was to archeology, he was to international cuisine. He was a breath of fresh air in an era of sniveling foodies with egos measurable in follower-counts. He won Emmys and had New York Times best-sellers. He was well-read, emotionally intelligent and, one can imagine, fairly wealthy.
He was also depressed.
For as far as society has come in understanding how to prepare and serve exotic dishes like Tête de Veau — which translates to “Head of Veal,” so vegans and other weak-stomached tofu munchers, beware — when it comes to understanding and treating depression, we are essentially staring at an empty plate. You can go on the internet, right now, and print out a step-by-step guide on how to turn the rotting, decapitated head of a cow into something worthy of three Michelin stars. Yet there is no recipe for treating depression.
How to make Tête de Veau? Easy. Why was Anthony Bourdain sad? Not so easy.
Back of House Blues
There are factors — warning signs, even — of depression. Sudden reclusiveness, behavioral changes, restlessness, weight fluctuations, mood swings, and, most obviously, sadness. What makes a person sad can vary as much as what makes them happy. While there are always things that can make us feel happy — video of kittens, late-night standup or a big pile of bacon — there is no permanent, one-and-done cure for depression. Therapy can help. Medication can help. Combined they can help even more, but there is no magical “happy pill” that prevents depression from returning. Depression is a grease trap of troubling thoughts. All the good things that come a person’s way during their day go in and out of their mind, but their depression retains all the bad runoff.
Even the brains at Harvard, Tête de Nerd if you will, have no real idea what’s going on. “It is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high,” Harvard staff wrote in an article discussing what causes depression. “There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.” See? No happy pill.
A pill wouldn’t be much help anyway. Pills are small. Little escape pods that you jettison down your throat and into the deep darkness of your gut. The pill never makes it to the other end of the galaxy, it just breaks apart in the acidic soup alongside the McBurger you ate six hours ago and the piece of gum you ate six years ago. Little bits of the pill get washed around in that soup before they are spread around the rest of your body, doing whatever it is that they were designed to do, until they’re done. Then that’s it. Problem solved.
Until it isn’t.
The pill runs out of juice at some point, and another must be taken. Then another, and another, and another, and another. Now you’ve got a whole new problem: You’re depressed and addicted.
Ok, that’s taking some liberties, but you get the point. Addiction can sneak in while the focus is on depression — one more weight to the already-burdened shoulders of people dealing with depression.
Bourdain was no exception. He found himself addicted to drugs earlier in his life, and while he was able to get treatment for his addiction, he kept his depression tucked away. Unfortunately, ignoring depression is a risky way to manage it. Depression is a wicked disease that tricks people into believing self-fabricated falsehoods. It evaporates their hopes and ambitions, and saturates their lives with senseless negativity.
Depression Well Done, Not Over Easy
Depression needs consideration, respect and care. Consider how the people around you are feeling. Check in with them, ask them how they’re doing and mean it. Then, respect their answers. If they don’t feel like continuing the conversation, don’t push them. If they say something to you that you disagree with or don’t want to hear, respond respectfully. Those two gestures show the other person that no matter how they’re feeling or what they think — or what you think — that you care. Whether you’re a television host, a chef, a writer, a truck driver, a teacher, a server, an athlete, or someone who just learned how to read, you can always show people that you care in this way.
Bourdain traveled the world, trying food wherever he went. Some food was delicious and treats we wish we could pull through our screens for a bite of. Other meals we were glad to be able to miss out on. Bourdain, however, never turned a dish down. “People are telling you a story when they give you food, and if you don’t accept the food… you are rejecting the people,” Bourdain said to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper during an interview promoting Bourdain’s show. “Because I’m accepting of the food, even if it’s out of my comfort zone or outright appalling…people open up.”
Accept others for who they are, the burdens they carry, and the food for thought that they bring to the table. End the stigma. Be patient, understanding and supportive. Be more like Bourdain, and be brave — reach out for help if you need it.
In referencing a quote of his from his 2010 novel “Medium Raw”, Bourdain told GQ he believes that as vital as it is for us to teach young people to look both ways before they cross the street, we should teach them to cook for themselves and, more importantly, for others. “There are few things more important and integral,” Bourdain said. “As citizens of the world, we should be able to feed ourselves fairly competently, and hopefully a few others.” As it turns out, cooking and caring go hand in hand.
If you or someone you care about struggles with depression alongside addiction, professional help is available. The National Alliance on Mental Health reported that 16 million American adults live with major depression — this isn’t a struggle you need to bear on your own. With facilities located across the country, The Recovery Village treats patients suffering from addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Help can’t wait; call today.