This article appears as part of the Food Matters newsletter.

Like fellow slaves to streaming services across the world, a highlight of the summer for me has been the return of the excruciatingly tense comedy-drama, The Bear.  

Set in a high-pressure Chicago restaurant, stress levels sizzle as protagonist Carmy transitions from a militant, Michelin-level position to running his deceased brother’s shambolic former sandwich shop.  

It makes for delicious viewing and naturally, during a heated post-finale analysis, group chat conversations turned to who reckoned they could keep a level head during a busy dinner service.  

One friend, who is particularly proud of their culinary abilities, was adamant that should their current career go up in smoke, they would be more than happy to don a pair of chef whites.  

“I work well under pressure”, they said with misplaced confidence.  

Somehow, I didn’t have the heart to point out that their experiments with an air fryer might not have prepared them to step up to the pass.  

The Herald:

Even after years of working in restaurants, I’m glad to say that I’ve had no experience working in the formidable kitchen environments that are synonymous with fine dining.  

But of course, as a food and drink writer, I’ve heard plenty of grizzly tales.  

Just a few weeks ago Nick Nairn, known as the youngest chef to have brought a Michelin Star to Scotland in 1991, spoke of changing attitudes towards working in professional kitchens.  

“People no longer want to work the insane shifts that are traditional in our industry.  

“They used to work extra hours because of their passion, but that’s all changed now.”  

Nairn went on to stress that he now offers a four-day working week for staff, much like Stuart Ralston, the acclaimed Edinburgh-based chef who will soon take over the former site of Paul Kitching’s 21212.  

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Stuart is no stranger to a gruelling kitchen, after moving to New York at the age of just 22 to work under TV’s toughest critic, Gordon Ramsay.  

Tales of his time stateside include the usual tropes of early mornings, late nights and next to no sleep amid a flurry of frantic kitchen meltdowns.  

Years after moving back to Scotland and having just celebrated his 40th birthday, however, Stuart is now a champion for a restored work-life balance which is slowly becoming more accepted across the industry.  

The Herald:

Speaking of his latest restaurant, Lyla, he said: “I’ve been working since I was 13 and being a chef is a morning, noon and night job.  

“At this point, I think I’ve earned the right to start thinking about my plans for the future which include spending more time with my family or moving into design-led projects. 

“Lyla will likely be one of the last restaurants that I am physically working in full time.”  

With heavyweights such as Michel Roux echoing these sentiments in a statement announcing the shock closure of La Gavroche in London last month, it’s a welcome change to see hospitality workers moving away from the toxic all-or-nothing mentality of old.   

A kitchen environment will never offer an easy shift, but when it comes to pushing workers to their limits for the sake of chasing perfection?  

Perhaps that’s best left to the small screen, chef.   

Find the full interview with Stuart Ralston, including plans for opening Lyla in the former home of Paul Kitching’s 21212 on The Herald website tomorrow.