Celebrity chefs who have talked about their depression

Working in a restaurant is intense — chefs often have to be on their feet for long hours, and have little time off. The pressure to prepare meals quickly, but that are also worthy of praise, is immense. Add television and film appearances to the normal aspects of chef life, and most people aren't able to stand up to the challenge. It's part of why we revere celebrity chefs as much as we do; they show us a fascinating side of the world, and they make it look easy.

A career in the culinary arts is anything but easy. The demands of the kitchen are hard both physically, and emotionally. In 2017, a survey was released by an organization called Unite; it found that a startling 51 percent of London chefs admitted to suffering from depression. World-famous chefs such as Bernard Loiseau, and Benoît Violier, have taken their own lives as they struggled to maintain the pristine standards needed to remain Michelin Star restaurateurs. Because of these challenges, more chefs are beginning to speak up about depression, and make changes in the industry. These brave celebrity chefs have gone public with their stories of depression, in hopes that others in their field (as well as their loyal fans) might better understand the condition and seek help if needed.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Wolfgang Puck

Wolfgang Puck began his career in the kitchen early on, having started his culinary training at age 14. He swiftly moved within the culinary ranks, becoming one of the most widely recognized chefs in the world. He's successfully built up an entire empire of restaurants, cookbooks, television shows and a line of food products and kitchen tools. But Puck had a difficult childhood, and it haunted him through his entire career. He excelled wherever he worked, but the stressful demands of dealing with head chefs left him with more than a few traumatic memories.

In an interview with Life & Thyme, Puck recounts a particularly dark time early in his career, where he almost took his own life. After he was fired from a job peeling potatoes, he felt hopeless and depressed. "Just like my stepfather always told me I'm good for nothing, the chef said, 'You're not good enough. You can't work here,'" he described in the interview. "I thought, 'I'm just going to kill myself.'" Luckily, Puck took a step back and decided to pursue his dream of being a chef. He enrolled in culinary school, excelled in his coursework, and began working at the Michelin three-starred L'Oustau de Baumanière, all before the age of 25. With the motivation to live and praise from senior staff members in his industry, Puck went on to revamp the restaurant business as we know it; his restaurant group currently owns over 20 fine dining restaurants worldwide.

David Chang

World-renowned for being the king of the Momofuku restaurant brand, David Chang has changed the game when it comes to pop culture and the culinary industry. He's been a guest judge on Top Chef: All Stars, host of The Mind of a Chef, and even launched a successful Netflix series, Ugly Delicious. You'd think a person who perfected birthday cake truffles would be immensely happy with his career. But when asked if he enjoys being a restaurateur for an interview in GQ, Chang replied, "I'm not what you'd describe as a happy guy..."

He was close friends with Anthony Bourdain and was hit particularly hard after his death. The tragedy prompted Chang to open up about his own emotions. In a podcast episode for The David Chang Show, Chang described his ongoing struggle with depression. He felt ashamed, like he had to hide his condition, and he also struggled with affording proper treatment. His job and passion saw him through the hardest days: "For me, the way I work... it was going to lift me out of depression by the simple fact of doing work... I knew that there was a purpose and I had to get to work." Luckily, with therapy and motivation, he's been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Sandra Lee

Food Network sweetheart Sandra Lee has made a career out of helping viewers cook delicious meals using everyday items from their pantries. She has published over 27 cookbooks, hosted four separate television shows, and even published her own magazine, according to a profile on Delish. Lee is known for her bubbly, positive attitude, even after enduring a double mastectomy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer — she overcame the condition and often talks about feeling grateful for the little things in life.

Growing up however, was a different story. Lee lived off of the welfare system for a majority of her early life, relying on food stamps and taking odd jobs to help feed her siblings. She experienced physical abuse after trying to intervene when her mother attempted to take her own life. In her memoirs, Lee stated that she was depressed, and had suicidal thoughts. Eventually, her interests and natural talent for interior design, coupled with an innate sense of entrepreneurship, helped her succeed. She owned her own business, and became a self-made millionaire by the age of 27. In 2003, her career skyrocketed even further with the premier of Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee. In an interview for AZ Central, Lee described how passion was so integral to her success. "Every day, you want to get up with passion in your heart," she said. "Every day you're not doing that is costing you a day of your life."

Chris Cosentino

Chris Cosentino has lived an incredible life, changing the San Francisco food scene as we know it. Specializing in a modern take on Italian cuisine, his career as a chef includes cooking in the kitchens of several highly regarded restaurants, before eventually opening restaurants of his own. A fierce supporter of sustainable cooking, he made a name for himself while promoting the use of entire animals in his cooking, wasting no parts. His restaurant Cockscomb, in San Francisco, is especially renowned for its dishes made with sustainable meat cuts and inspired by the city itself.

Behind his acclaim, the Iron Chef and Top Chef master struggled with mental health issues. "It really had no rhyme or reason, it just...happened," he explained in a video on ChefsFeed.  Constantino admitted how his behavior pushed away friends, family members, and journalists. "Nobody wants to admit they have anxiety or they have depression," he added, but that he luckily realized what he was going through was a chemical imbalance, not a result of drugs, drinking, or other issues. He's now a supporter of Chefs With Issues, a website dedicated to destigmatizing mental health in both the culinary community, and elsewhere. "Once I got a balance, I felt like a very different person," he relayed in his video. "It really hurt to realize that's the way I was behaving."

Cat Cora

This Food Network star has helped elevate diversity in the culinary industry for decades. Even before she was the first female winner of Iron Chef, Cora had appeared on television and was the host of Melting Pot, alongside chef buddy Rocco DiSpirito, and Kitchen Accomplished. In 2012 she was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame, and her career shows no signs of slowing down. With appearances on more than 18 shows dedicated to cooking, it feels as though being a celebrity chef is what Cora was always meant to be.

She tells a different story in her memoir, Cooking as Fast as I Can: A Chef's Story of Family, Food, and Forgiveness. While promoting her book on CBS This Morning, Cora stated, "I'm a positive person...but my life hasn't been easy at times." At just 6 years old, Cora was sexually abused by a family friend; the trauma led to dark habits, including drunk driving (for which she was arrested). She speaks about her battle with depression, and how what happened to her in her past is part of her main motivation to be successful. This can be especially difficult in an industry dominated by men, but it no longer seems to be an issue for Cora. Speaking on her big Iron Chef win, Cora made it clear that she was "representing all women in the industry" who are perfectly capable of cooking, "as fast and hard as men."

Michael Symon

Michael Symon solidified his place in the culinary world early on in his career, and is most well-known for reviving the restaurant scene in Cleveland, Ohio. Once named Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef, Symon is known for having an "exuberant, approachable cooking style" and an "infectious laugh" that has made him the celebrated TV chef and culinary personality he is today. His close buddies include Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, and his star-studded credits include appearances on Iron Chef and a co-host on The Chew.

Symon openly discussed his battle with depression in an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal. A creature of perfection, he faced the typical pressures of being a teenager while growing up in Cleveland. He was on his high school wrestling team, where he was on track to "get a college wrestling scholarship and become a wrestling coach." An accident in his junior year left him with an arm injury from which he never fully recovered. "My senior year was a mess," he described. "I became depressed, and I felt lost and angry." One song changed the course of his life, however. Symon writes, "I began to listen carefully to the lyrics of 'Stairway to Heaven' ... The lyrics helped me realize there's always time to change course." He gave up his wrestling dreams and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, which would lead him to where he is today. He's been grateful ever since.

Nigella Lawson

Ever since publishing How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food, Nigella Lawson has forced the food industry to look at dining in unique and decadent ways. She's one of the most sought-after celebrity culinary personalities (she refuses to be called a "chef"), hosting her own television programs and acting as co-host on The Taste. A former journalist, she's added dozens of cookbook credits to her repertoire, and has written articles about food culture, recipes, and the art of living, for publications around the world.  

Her background is certainly taste-worthy, but Lawson has previously described having symptoms of depression from a young age, including low self-esteem, not being able to get up in the morning, and "bouts of melancholia." Another one of Anthony Bourdain's close friends, Lawson was "heartbroken" by the news of his death, and even had to step away from social media while mourning. Bourdain was unfortunately not the only important person in her life to have passed away tragically: she lost both her mother and her husband to cancer, which changed the course of her life forever. She's admitted to using hard drugs in the past, but works hard to distance herself from that part of her past. Her strength — and chocolate — has carried her through the worst of times, including a fraud trial involving two of her assistants and her ex-husband Charles Saatchi.   

Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern has what some would consider to be a dream job: he gets paid to eat weird food around the world. But Zimmern was big in the culinary scene even before Bizarre Foods took off. According to his website, he revolutionized the menu at New York City's Cafe Un Deux Trois, became a renowned food critic, founded the media production company Food Works, and has published several books. His work on the Travel Channel only heightened his amiable personality; he's been the star of several Bizarre Food spin-off shows, produces podcasts, and is a regular speaker at travel and food events around the world.

It took a long time for Zimmern to reach the coveted lifestyle he leads today. He often recounts having abused drugs and alcohol in his younger years; an article on The Fix profiled an Instagram image he shared, which served as a distant record of his destructive behavior. "I was a dangerous mess," he says in the post. "The pain inside was unimaginable and indescribable." Zimmern abused various substances because of the intense emotions he felt as a youth. "You feel all the things that traumatized you or gave you anxiety or depressed you disappear," he said in an article for CNN. A one-way ticket to drug rehab changed his entire life; afterwards, he began washing dishes in restaurants and worked his way up to being the acclaimed celebrity chef we know and love today. On top of that, Zimmern has also been sober for more than 26 years.

Richard Blais

Richard Blais is best known for claiming the title win on Top Chef: All Stars in 2011. He had previously competed on season 4 of the series, but being a runner-up didn't seem to keep him from being successful in between shows. He founded his own food-based consulting company, Trail Blais, and enjoys writing cookbooks (including collaborations with chef buddy Tom Colicchio). Culinary competitions are a huge passion for Blais: he went on to compete in Iron Chef and Choppedand even became a judge for Top Chef and Master Chef.

Most people don't know however, that Blais previously struggled with a weight problem. In an interview for CNN, Blais discussed what life was like years before he competed on television, when he was 60 pounds overweight. He attributed his weight problem to working in the kitchen — cooking food, tasting dishes, and testing new ingredients all led Blais to some unhealthy habits. Feeling as though he had lost himself, he fell into a dark place. It was a cry for help. "What kick-started my weight loss was a combination of a really joyous thing and some massive depression," he described. At the time, he was trying to get the attention of a woman named Jazmin (who eventually became his wife). And after losing a restaurant he named after himself, Blais knew he had to make some changes if he was going to win her over. Through a vegan diet and exercise, Blais was able to ward off his depression with his new healthy lifestyle he still maintains today.

Daniel Patterson

A true culinary prodigy, Daniel Patterson opened his own restaurant, Babette's in Sonoma, without attending culinary school, at age 25. He's a self-taught chef, which hasn't hindered his career at all; his foresight at such a young age has provided him with decades of deliciously successful endeavors, including the three-Michelin Star-rated Coi of San Francisco. Today, Patterson's culinary firm supports unique restaurant projects around the world.

In 2016, Patterson wrote an article that changed how people perceived the restaurant business forever. "Speaking Out" was written for MAD, and described a topic very close to Patterson's personal life: depression in the culinary industry. "I've always had my ups and downs," he describes. "I thought it was a more or less normal outgrowth of a flawed character, something I should accept, endure, survive..." He discussed how difficult it was to work while he was depressed; he didn't want to be stigmatized for admitting his condition, or using medication to control it. Luckily he began to seek treatment, and found solace in sharing stories with chef friends going through the same issues. Patterson wanted to shed light on the rampant amount of chefs dealing with depression on a daily basis. "Depression is closely linked to stress, low incomes, exhaustion and hostile work environments," he wrote. "All of which restaurants have in ample supply." Thanks to his words and advice, chefs around the world feel less alone, and more empowered to seek mental health treatment.

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain always gave off the appearance of a "tough guy" — his television programs and books were riddled with course language, and he often spoke his mind, even about his friends in the culinary industry. His honest commentary and brilliant talent for writing is what landed him his No Reservations and Parts Unknown acclaim. Yet those closest to him talked of his charming and kind personality, and he was known to be an advocate for minorities and marginalized communities. His best friend, Eric Ripert, recently said that Bourdain was an "exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous."

On the morning of June 8th, 2018, Bourdain was found unresponsive in his hotel room while on a trip to France; he tragically had taken his own life. Before his death, Bourdain had spoken about his battle with many issues, including depression. In the Argentina episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain discussed how quickly and randomly the onset of depression can be: "I'll order an airport hamburger. It's an insignificant thing ... Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression..." He went on to say how he experienced extreme highs and lows, many times for no rational reason. Bourdain admitted to receiving psychotherapy treatment in the episode, but unfortunately, he chose a resolution that affected millions. The shock of his death rippled through the world, and has resulted in a more conscious effort to support those with mental health issues, including depression.