An Interview with Chef Brian Tsao About Fundraiser Event “Small Bites of Hope”
To commemorate Mental Health Awareness during the month of May, Chef Brian Tsao — known for his appearances on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped and the Metal Injection series Taste of Metal — will be hosting a fundraiser with non-profit Hope for the Day called Small Bites of Hope. The event will take place in New York City on May 18th.
Chef Brian will serve his signature “comfort food” small-bite hors d’oeuvres, alongside an open bar with beverages generously provided by Sixpoint & Blackcraft Spirits & Uncle Dougie’s. Co-host Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage will be spinning tuns, and there will be a fundraising raffle, as well as a photo booth and more!
The event will take place at the Gibson Guitars Showroom at 421 W. 54th St. starting at 6pm. Grab your tickets here–> https://goo.gl/33fk5q
100% of proceeds support Hope for the Day’s proactive suicide prevention and mental health education projects.
To learn more about the event and the motivation behind it, we caught up with Chef Brian to speak about mental health awareness, his own experiences with mental illness, what he hopes to accomplish with this fundraiser and more.
Can you tell us what inspired you to launch Small Bites of Hope?
Hope For The Day has a very powerful but simple message: “Have hope, it’s OK to not be OK.” Those words resonated with me from the moment I heard them and prompted me to take positive action. Once I got to know Jonny Boucher, founder of Hope for the Day, and the incredible work he does, I immediately offered my services to help in the best way I knew how, by throwing an event that people can enjoy good food and drink, and by opening myself up to start a conversation one person at a time. Hopefully I can lead others by example to be proactive in starting their own conversations.
What can people attending the event expect to experience?
First and foremost, people can expect great food! We’ll have a great assortment of passed hors d’oeuvres, great drinks mixed by Nick Emde of Fat Rad Catering, Black Craft Whiskey, Six Point Beer, Uncle Dougie’s Sauces & event frozen dessert to order by Snowdays! Did I mention I’m hosting this together with Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage?
Can you describe your own personal experience with mental illness, and what Hope for the Day means to you?
I grew up with many mental health issues I didn’t even know I had until a mental breakdown shortly after my win over Bobby Flay. I’m very fortunate to have a successful career that allows me to enjoy my love of food and music, but often others are blinded by the success not knowing the hard work, turmoil and suffering that’s behind it. I found myself compelled to act cheerful and happy because I thought that’s what others wanted out of me, when in reality I was completely lost after accomplishing something that was literally on the top of my bucket list, defeating an Iron Chef.
I felt as though a trigger was pulled in my brain because I was quickly spiraling downwards. While I had a lot to celebrate I had a lot of mental issues to confront; I was not allowing myself to enjoy my success and I quickly sought help when I began to resent my life and resent people and I had suicidal thoughts. But even worse, I had serious thoughts of hurting others.
I grew up without the concept of mental health: emotional distress was something you just “dealt with” and “got over.” Looking back, this mindset caused me to suppress and ignore compounding mental issues. I had plenty of warning signs, drug abuse, religious fanaticism and even a suicide attempt all before I was even on the show Beat Bobby Flay. I believe it was all those past emotional experiences that allowed me to see the dark path I was headed on again, and this time I probably wouldn’t be able to just “deal with” and “get over” it.
I remember as a teenager seeing ads for suicide hotlines I had used. The end tag line was, “if you need help, don’t wait, get help now…” and that’s exactly what I did. With the help of therapy I was able to tackle a lot of my mental issues, which I still deal with today, but I manage now by taking it one day at a time knowing it’s OK not to be OK. What became apparent to me after seeking help is that many others need help too, even some who don’t know they need it. A lot of those who are looking for it don’t know where or how to start, and in some cases are even scared to try in fear of what others may think. Hope For The Day is proactive in letting people know help is out there and available to them. The professional kitchen is not only a magnet for mental health issues, but also a breeding ground for it. Cooks are often encouraged to suppress their emotions and “tough it out” during times of extreme pressure and work load, and while this is necessary to an extent to get through, for example, a booked out dinner service, this mentality begins to blur the work and personal life lines, often manifesting into bullying and extreme negativity.
Hope For The Day means to me the potential of positive progress towards defeating mental health issues in the professional kitchen.
How has metal been important to you in your battles with mental illness?
For me metal has been my method of feeling and experiencing various emotions, life situations and growth that under normal circumstances I would not be able to. It can range from wanting to do something horrible to someone out of anger to helping me lift just a few more pounds on my next bench press. Maybe while I’m down the perfect positive war cry is being screamed during the chorus, or there’s an escape into a fantasy story. Whatever it is, I can find it in metal.
The same for cooking — have you found that cooking offered you an outlet?
Cooking started more as a discipline, something I dearly needed when I first found it 13 years ago, and while I did find some creative output, my love is really for the art of “chefing”. Being a chef covers a wide range of skills that are constantly in flux, but ultimately demands a consistent product day in and day out. It’s a hustle much like the world of music that relies on a form of art that is completely subjective, but ultimately always finds a way to be quantified. After all the insanity that goes into running a professional kitchen as a chef, the joy of just cooking a very good dish becomes even more special.
What would you say to metalheads struggling with mental illness who might be looking for answers?
I would tell them what I tell myself “Have hope, its OK not to be OK, breathe slowly and organize your thoughts. Now pick ONE place to start and don’t be afraid to speak up about how you’re feeling. If the person you speak to doesn’t respond, start all over again. Keep doing this until you find someone who responds.”
Can we expect to see more events from you in the future similar to this one?