Michael Voltaggio Discusses Addiction Among Chefs

By Bryan Le 05/21/18
"I wish somebody told me 10 or 15 years ago to not go out so much after work, to spend more time doing things other than partying and doing the sort of stereotypical thing that a chef did."
Voltaggio, chef, inspects a pig on Instagram.
Photo via Instagram

Chef Michael Voltaggio has been free of cigarettes for a year and a half now, but it was no easy feat considering the industry he works in.

“I wish somebody told me 10 or 15 years ago to not go out so much after work, to spend more time doing things other than partying and doing the sort of stereotypical thing that a chef did,” said the winner of Top Chef season 6. “People like to say, 'Chefs are the new rock stars.' That's all fine and good, but rock stars don't have to work 14 or 15 hours a day in a hot kitchen cooking for people and stuff like that. Rock stars work very hard, and I'm not taking away from what they do for a living, but we have a physically demanding and emotionally demanding job, and anything that takes away from that, you're only compromising: A, your health, and B, your future.”

Other chefs have struggled with addiction as well. Celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern have openly discussed their struggles. On a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA), Bourdain revealed some of his past behaviors.

“I was a complete asshole. Selfish, larcenous, druggy, loud, stupid, insensitive and someone you would not want to have known,” Bourdain said about his early 20s. “I would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house.”

Voltaggio offered an explanation for why people in his line of work seem especially vulnerable to substance abuse.

“We're always looking for some form of intensity,” Voltaggio offered. “There's this need to apply this energy to something, and I think chefs, all chefs, have this innate ability to have more energy than anyone else.”

To satisfy this need for stimulation, Voltaggio says chefs should focus their energy onto healthy, productive alternatives such as martial arts and charity work.

“Imagine if you took that energy and applied it to more productivity or something different than just cooking. Imagine all the different things you could learn. As life goes by, do you want to remember that time or those times that you spent four or five or six hours in a bar after work, or what else did you accomplish?” he said. “I'm starting to realize that I have different interests outside of restaurants and cooking, and there's a lot of different things that I want to do, but I can't do that if I'm going out after work and partying and socializing and doing all the things that are associated with that.”

Voltaggio shared his story on Nicorette’s "A Better Way to Quit" video series.

Quitting isn’t easy, but Voltaggio offered some guidance.

“Find other ways to distract yourself. I think Nicorette was just an example of something. It wasn't the means to an end; it was a distraction, and it inspired me to find other distractions to take my mind off of wanting to do that,” Voltaggio advised. “So any habit that you have, I think once you're an addict or once you're addicted or you have an addictive personality, you're always going to be addicted to something, so find something positive to be addicted to.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter