If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. But if that’s not an option, you’re going to need a better coping strategy. For Michelin Star chef Eric Ripert, discovering the philosophy of Buddhism and meditating daily transformed him from a raging, plate-smashing chef, to a calm and collected leader. The culinary industry is trying to rectify its reputation for workplace abuse and make kitchens a more mentally healthy environment to work in. For Ripert, the teachings of Buddhism inspired him to change the way he reacted to stress and frustration—but it’s really just the framework: he recommends finding the philosophy that works for you and can guide you to become a better and more accountable person. Eric Ripert’s most recent book is 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line
Eric Ripert: Kitchens are a very difficult environment. It’s hot, it’s many sharp objects everywhere, it’s a lot of people, it’s humid; it’s a dangerous place to be. And very often in a kitchen you have the cooks almost touching each other, there's not too much space, and that can create an environment that is potentially violent in a sense of screaming, and sometimes some cooks have tempers—and myself when I was younger, I had a temper—and can throw plates on the floor or pans, can express their frustration very easily.
I know that my generation of cooks very often fought violently in the kitchen or verbally abused in the kitchen, and that generation is working hard to make sure that we don’t have that anymore. But, of course, some chefs—and some of them are well known and they promote on television, for instance, that screaming is a good thing, and it’s not.
When I was very young I had a temper, and I think when you have a temper you always have it, but you can work on it and tame your temper, and that’s what I do. When I started in the kitchen, especially with the position of a chef, a chef de cuisine, I used to scream at the cooks, I used to break plates, be very angry. And when I discovered the philosophy of Buddhism it helped me tremendously to basically work on my temper and to have a different vision.
Buddhism has been very, very transformative for me. I meditate every day, on many different meditations. But I definitely try to avoid getting angry, so meditation is a big tool for me. What is interesting about Buddhism is that it’s a philosophy, it’s a religion, and also it’s a science. And personally it talks to me, it speaks to me. But I could be Jewish, I could be Muslim, I could be Christian or Hindu; all those major religions have the same mission to make us a better person, to make us better human beings.
So Buddhism is always interesting for me to speak about because I am a practitioner, but at the same time it doesn’t make me a better chef or better person than someone who’s not.