ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Addressing mental health and substance abuse issues is usually put on the backburner in the culinary world.
Seeing friends and family suffer from issues in the kitchen and behind the bar inspired Chef Tristin Rogers to take action. His first thought was to connect with a program in the United Kingdom that brought mental health and substance abuse issues in the food and beverage industry to the forefront. Food purveyor Stacy Wilson encouraged Rogers to start his own program rather than wait to connect with someone from across the pond.
Rogers has created Project Mis En Place with the help of some family members as well as people from the culinary world. Licensed counselor Allison Hendricks Smith is also part of the team and the program will be adding more licensed professionals from the mental health field.
“The great thing about this program is it’s going to have a lot of everything,” Rogers said. “One of the main focuses is going to be on education for mental health for the food and beverage industry. So our idea is to actually create a curriculum that’s going to teach people about being aware of mental health.”
The plan is to reach out to teens who are part of ProStart, a nationwide, two-year high school culinary program.
“(We want to) go into ProStart where these kids are about to go to culinary school and just kind of create a video or be part of their curriculum,” Rogers said. “So that it gets them aware of the problems that you can have as far as mental health goes in the industry. Not only that, but we’re going to have a website where you can actually go and reach out for help … But the main focus is actually getting these people to help that they do need.”
Project Mis En Place takes its name from a French culinary term, mise en place, that translates to having everything ready and to be prepared. The program is in its early stages, but it continues to evolve. Its website at projectmisenplace.com is currently under construction, but people interested in its services can follow at instagram.com/projectmisenplace or visit facebook.com/projectmisenplace.
“And some of the things that they’re talking about is not only implementing that curriculum into the high schools or Central New Mexico Community College, but also kind of partnering the new incoming kids with chefs that have been in the kitchen and giving them that opportunity to have somebody to mentor them and to have somebody to go to and to have somebody to connect with and share the good and the bad,” Wilson said. “… So that it’s not so daunting when these kids get in the kitchen and they start to have those thoughts and those feelings that, you know, they can interact with other people that have been there and done that and know that one, it’s normal, but also that like there’s somebody that’s rooting for them.”
Rogers wanted to create a platform for industry people to let them know that it is OK to not be OK.
“There’s this stigma, like, you know what I mean, in the culinary business, it’s like, you know, leave your feelings at the door,” Rogers said. “And it’s like, no, I carry this everywhere I go. So, I’ve worked for chefs like that, you know, like, ‘Oh, I don’t pay you for your feelings, I’m paying you to work’ and that’s a horrible thing. You know, because one, if you want good food to come out and you want good workers, you want their mental health to be up to par.”
A successful business makes their employees’ mental health a priority Rogers added.
“You know, happy people, happy food, happy guests,” he said. “So I think shedding a light on all this and making it part of the normal conversation is something that needs to happen. Because if not, you can’t just shove your feelings aside … Sometimes it works for people because diving into work keeps their mind occupied from it. But they’re not here 24/7. They’re here for eight hours, sometimes a little more, but they’ve got to go home and deal with the problems. So not only will it help them in their work life, but it should help them in their personal life too.”