My name is Zia Sheikh and I am a 16 year hospitality industry veteran. The journey from where I started to where I ended up was not easy. When I was a line cook the names of the legendary three-michelin starred chefs inspired me and pushed me to be better every day. Ripert, Vongerichten, Kunz, Keller, Robuchon, Adria, Trotter, and even Julia Child - to be one of the greats required a lot of hard work and dedication to the craft. Hours on your feet doing hours of repetition. Trial and error until you got it right. The benefit at the end was exquisite artistry, craftsmanship, sophistication, teamwork, camaraderie, and indulgence.
The same year I attended culinary school was the same year "Kitchen Confidential" was published. Anthony Bourdain was one of the first chefs to write and speak about the secrets and stories of the gang of macho misfits, drug abusers, and sexual offenders behind kitchen doors. Along with the success of Emeril Lagasse on The Food Network, chefs became rockstars overnight.
It wasn't the fame that attracted me to the hospitality industry. It was the dream of knowing I could nourish people. Knowing that there could be a dining room full of happy guests enjoying the fruits of my labor. Knowing that for a fraction of an instant, I could reach out and touch someone's soul. The major benefit was that I could do it without anyone ever seeing me.
Throughout my years in the industry I began to get into a cycle. I fell into "the dark side" of the hospitality industry and started to abuse alcohol.
The more experienced I became, the harder I pushed. The harder I pushed, the more I drank. The more I drank, the less I thought about how depressed I actually was. For years I abused alcohol and drugs to help me put a band-aid on the demons I was holding within myself.
For years I used this industry as a way to hide from the outside world. I never minded the long hours and broken relationships. I pushed myself forward to learn the craft and work alongside the best.
I struggled with my mental health for decades, until finally, I made the decision that it was finally time to work on myself. It was a hard decision to let those close to me know I was taking a sabbatical from the industry. That I lost all hope and could barely get up in the morning. That I was now struggling to find inspiration in an industry that saved me from previous suicide attempts when I was 19. I thought I would look weak to those around me. However, that was not the case. In fact, it was far from. I now know making the decision to focus on your mental health is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom and strength.
I took 6 months off from the industry to focus on my own well-being, and I can now proudly say it's time to look for a brighter and healthier future.
And that is why I decided to start Restaurant After Hours. I love this industry. I love the art, the people, and the business of it. I don't want other people following my footsteps. It leads to a dark place that is hard to get out of. Each of us has wings to fly, however some of us just need support in learning how to spread them. I formed Restaurant After Hours to help you soar.
To make it in this industry you need to be mentally strong and focused. However, therapy is far out of reach for most financially. We are here to support you. So you do not have to quit your job. So you do not have to drag yourself through daily living. So you can smile and put together the building blocks of where you want to be. The industry is hard enough, you do not need to be hard on yourself.
You're not alone. Reach out. I am here with you.
Instagram : @chefziasheikh
Twitter : @ChefZiaSheikh