The Current

Why this Montreal chef says up-and-coming cooks need to learn about wellness, sobriety

For years, Montreal chef David McMillan struggled with alcoholism while working in an industry saturated with booze. And in the high-stress business, he says he was never taught how to take care of his well-being. He tells us how he hopes things will change.

You learn 'to clean fish,' but not what to do in a 'dark spot,' says now-sober David McMillan

Montreal chef David McMillan is the restaurateur behind Joe Beef. (Chanelle Sinclair and Gabe Smith)

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A prominent Montreal chef who struggled with alcoholism is calling for more support for burgeoning cooks to ensure they don't face the same difficulties he did.

"You learn how to clean, you learn hygiene, you know how to clean fish, but you know absolutely nothing about self-preservation, wellness or what to do or where to go if you get in a dark spot," said David McMillan.

In a fast-paced, demanding business where half of the sales made are related to alcohol, cooking schools should be teaching students about wellness, sobriety and what to do if they come face-to-face with depression, McMillan told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

McMillan, the restaurateur behind Joe Beef, Liverpool and Le Vin Papillon, has been sober for over a year.

He opened up about his experience working in an industry saturated in booze in a recent article for Bon Appétit.

Chef David McMillan on sobriety in a high-pressure workplace

4 years ago
Duration 2:39
World-renowned chef David McMillan says he's made changes to his Montreal restaurants since he quit drinking. He wants to ensure his employees have access to the help they need.

Although McMillan describes himself as an introvert in his personal life, he said he increasingly turned to alcohol to host customers over the years. Eventually, he became unhappy with the way he was doing business, and he started to lose interest in the fine wines and meals he once enjoyed, he said.

"I didn't know or understand how to turn on that other David McMillan at 6 p.m. without, you know, consuming wine," he said.

Better resources needed, says McMillan

After going through rehab and returning to the industry with a fresh attitude, McMillan has discovered his peers are facing challenges too, but don't have enough resources to turn to for help.

"I found myself taking money out of my own bank account to send people to therapy to be assessed on multiple occasions," McMillan said.

"I found myself ... driving people to the hospital. I found myself spending money on these issues."

Instead of continuing to give thousands of dollars to other charitable causes, as he's done in the past, McMillan is now planning a fundraiser that would give workers in the food industry access to therapy if they need it.

He calls it "a good start."

"We used to give them beer and wine," he said. "Might as well just give them a hundred dollar therapy, one hour."

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Imogen Birchard.