What’s killing the world’s great chefs?

By | February 9, 2019

Chef-to-the-stars Justin Bull seemed to have everything to live for, just like the other celebrity chefs he followed whose deaths police said had “no suspicious circumstances”.

Like Jeremy Strode, like Darren Simpson, like Anthony Bourdain.

The body of 46-year-old Bull was found inside his smart cafe Huxton’s in the seaside Sydney suburb of Bronte, which had enjoyed rave reviews.

Bull had worked as a personal chef to film star Russell Crowe, billionaire James Packer and had cooked for the NSW Blues State of Origin side last year under Brad Fittler.

As news of his untimely death spread, tributes rolled in from heartbroken, grieving and dumbfounded friends.

TV host David Campbell mourned his “best friend … I thought we would be talking about our kids over coffee when we were really old … I love you brother”.

A saddened Seven Network reporter Jessica Ridley wrote on Twitter about how Bull “had only recently been open about his battle with depression and was seeking help”.

Nine Honey’s Shelly Horton posted on Instagram about Bull’s huge smile, “outrageous stories and of course his incredible food”.

Photos of Bull in the posts of all three grieving friends show Bull’s massive smile.

Bull’s death follows that of three high profile Australian chefs in 2017.

In January of that year, Nitai Gordon, a junior chef at Bennelong restaurant, took his own life, seemingly out of the blue.

Fellow Bennelong chef Mal Meiers told news.com.au at the time Gordon was hardworking, smart, cheeky and he’d had a good rapport with him.

“No one really saw it coming,” Meiers said. “It was a big sideswipe.”

Five months later, in June 2017, celebrity chef Darren Simpson died after a long battle with alcohol addiction-related illness.

The father of two was a larrikin character — another cheeky chef with drive and enthusiasm — who regularly appeared on cooking shows including Ready, Steady, Cook.

He suffered a heart attack shortly after leaving a rehabilitation facility and died, aged 39.

A month after that, Jeremy Strode, the well known co-proprietor with his wife Jane Strode of Bistrode in Sydney, took his life.

The 53-year-old, who had started as a dishwasher at 14 and worked for some of the world’s greatest chefs, had continually won chef’s hats in the Good Food Guide.

In 2015, Strode had become an RUOK? ambassador. He left behind two children.

Then last year, the world woke up to the news that perhaps the planet’s most famous TV chef, or at least the one with the most rock and roll sensibility, Anthony Bourdain had died.

Bourdain was found dead on June 8, 2018, in an apparent suicide in his French hotel room while working on his CNN TV series, Parts Unknown.

The chef and author had been on a stratospheric trajectory since the 2000 release of his international smash hit book, Kitchen Confidential.

Anthony Bourdain was by no means the only internationally well-known chef to take his own life

Homaro “Omar” Cantu, chef and media personality who practised molecular gastronomy, was famous for his scientific inventiveness.

In 2008, he won on Iron Chef America when he used a laser to caramelise edible packaging material and liquid nitrogen to create beet.

He was a TV regular, appearing on shows including Good Morning America, Hell’s Kitchen and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, and known for generosity and a positive attitude.

He was found dead inside a bistro brewery, Crooked Fork, he was renovating, in April, 2015,

the 38-year-old leaving behind a wife and two daughters.

The next year it was Frenchman Benoît Violier, who had studied in Paris with the great Joel Robuchon, before moving to Switzerland.

The three Michelin star chef was famed for excelling in haute cuisine.

In 2016, he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Just a month earlier, the French government had named his restaurant, Le Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville the best in the world.

So what drove these talented men to end it all?

Max Meier told news.com.au in 2017 that, in Australia at least, brutal shifts, intense pressure and isolation drove chefs to the brink.

The international culture of kitchens for chefs everywhere is one of military-style macho, “get on with it” discipline.

Long hours are spent in a sparsely populated kitchen where you press on, being tired or ill is no excuse, and are then spat out into the world to unwind alone over a drink when everyone else is in bed asleep.

Former Hilton Adelaide chef Simon Bryant told news.com.au: “The pressure can trigger others behaviours.

“People when they’ve done a day’s work and it’s been long day and they’ve done service, which can be like a battlefield, they don’t have the tools to deal with it in a healthy way.

“It’s very common for chefs to go to a bar after.

“Most chefs pride themselves on their resilience, [they’re] really proud of how they handle pressure and thrive on it. That can be a great thing, but it can tip over and make you anxious.

“A chef will say, come on, throw another 20 hours at me, but there needs to be a point where you know you’ve had enough.

“Most kitchens are the United Nations — everyone’s accepted, but they’re tough. The girls are tough, too. You’ve got to find balance.

“We’ve lost amazing chefs and incredible people in the last few years.”

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