Long and odd hours, picky customers and scalding elements aren’t exactly a recipe for mental stability. The hospitality industry – both back and front of house – goes hand in hand with pressure.
Chef Paolo Arlotta knows the feeling well. He staged (interned) at Noma in Copenhagen and Sydney’s Quay while he worked as sous chef at Vue de Monde before taking on a chef role at not-for-profit cafe Kinfolk. Now, he’s running Chefs of Yoga, a wind-down alternative for hospitality workers.
“On my day off I just needed to switch off and escape from all the crazy hours. Yoga’s been so great for me, so this is how the project started,” says Arlotta, who teaches regular yoga classes at Fitzroy Gym and Gertrude Street Yoga Studio.
“The aim is to bring more balance to the hospitality industry, rather than [heading to] a bar at one in the morning after service. As a physical kind of activity, which is gentle and doesn’t require too much effort, it’s a great start,” he says. “But it’s really more than that. It drastically reduces stress and the way the chefs cope with stress during the day.”
Arlotta, who also runs vegetarian degustation pop-ups (including an upcoming dinner and industry mental health conversation with Food For Thought founder Mal Meiers), is not immune. He worked 53 hours in four days prior to speaking to Broadsheet, so it’s no wonder there’s a call for four-day work weeks and regulated hours in commercial Australian kitchens.
It’s a problem Arlotta admits is out of his hands, but he’s doing what he feels will help – even if there’s a little stigma attached to the practice.
“[Chefs] think it’s pink leggings and fancy yoga studios,” he says.
Hoping to change workers’ minds, he brings yoga to them. Modern Australian restaurant Amaru’s in-house Thursday ritual is one example.
“They move the tables, the chairs, stop everything in the kitchen and do a one-hour class,” Arlotta says. “It’s funny because sometimes during the class there’s deliveries, timers going off, but it’s been great. The chefs are improving physically and say they’re happier in the kitchen.”
Arlotta believes if the person cooking a meal is happy and calm, it's transferred into the dish. He likens this feeling to eating a comforting, home cooked meal.
“Even if sometimes they’re not the best chefs, it always tastes so good because there’s something more than spices and salt,” Arlotta says.
“Do you want food cooked by someone that’s working all day long, thinking why am I here, why am I doing this, fuck this, fuck that? No. You want food looking good, tasting great, cooked by someone that is more balanced.”
To arrange a Chefs of Yoga workplace session, head here.