Ari Taymor gets real in yesterday’s op-ed confession in LA Weekly about why he turned down a second restaurant opportunity. The Alma chef gets into a bit more detail about the well-tread story of how his restaurant closed. Except this time, Taymor gives a lot more about what went on physically, emotionally, and psychologically in the aftermath of the closure, which included a bankruptcy and an ulcer that sent him to the emergency room.
Taymor doesn’t miss the chance to pin some of the blame on the media too, reiterating that a lot of the press attention that Alma received actually wasn’t helpful in bringing diners into the restaurant. The whole thing hinges on how Taymor’s become comfortable with pursuing a personal balance versus working in overdrive to achieve career success. Here are the best lines from Ari Taymor’s op-ed.
On being a cook in every aspect of life:
“We grocery shop, drive and talk the way we cook: fast and efficient, a mantra propelling us forward. If we're lucky, this leads to a chef position, to a platform from which to make a name.”
On the pressure of succeeding in the restaurant business:
“We had no investors; everything was done on a shoestring. Because of this, there was no margin for error. I was the first one there and the last one out every day. I wasn't around for my family and was barely present as a close friend slowly succumbed to cancer. My stress and anxiety, my lack of balance, created an ulcer that sent me to the emergency room at 26 years old with massive internal bleeding. I felt numb, the hallmark of depression.”
On the lack of fulfillment in “success”:
“The example I set was to drive until you break, and then to keep going. I hated myself, I hated my work, and my food was filled with meaningless ego and negativity. Despite this, the good press and accolades continued to pile up. I got everything I thought I wanted, like some kind of surreal joke.”
On the subject of media attention:
“At the supposed peak of my career, with a James Beard nomination and a string of other awards in hand, I broke. Except this time I couldn't keep going. My restaurant was failing; in spite of the immense press we received, we remained mostly empty, often cooking for just a handful of people each night.”
On starting over again after Alma closed:
“Without the identity of my restaurant and my position, I was forced to start anew, and I created a sense of self that was separate from work. I learned compassion and patience and tried to let go of ego and ambition. I cooked at home again for the first time in years, just purely for the pleasure of it. I started meditating. I opened myself up to advice and guidance from friends and professionals. Instead of burying my hurt, I exposed it.
On the next steps after reestablishing Alma inside the Standard Hotel:
“But I worried that, from the outside, I looked like a sellout. I'm a hotel chef, something I used to scoff at as a young cook. I felt something creep up inside of me: this need to prove myself again, to rebuild my name and reputation. And so I sought out a new restaurant.”
On why he turned down the opportunity of a lifetime:
“The wholeness of my life was more important than the arc of my career.”
On why he’s sharing his story right now:
“Weakness is something we are taught to be allergic to as cooks. The ideal cook is stoic, unmoved in the face of pain and pressure. I hoped that by sharing this with my cooks, they would see an alternative...we must teach our cooks the value of community — teach them how to cope with stress and depression and support them when they need to prioritize their lives at the cost of our menus and our legacies.”