This Top Chef contestant shares how he battles his mental health demons


By Kenya McCullum

James Beard-nominated chef and restaurateur Chef Brother Luck should have been at the top of his game when he competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” in 2018. But instead of soaring to the heights he seemed destined for, he crashed and burned when he suffered a severe mental health crisis that left him trying to take his own life.

brother luck copySince that time, Chef Luck has rebuilt himself from this low point, and he uses his story to help advocate for improving the mental health of other chefs. We spoke to Chef Luck to find out more about his journey and how chefs can improve their own mental health.

Q: Have you always had mental health challenges or is it something that developed from dealing with the pressures of being a chef?

A: I’m a child of the streets. I’m a child of trauma, and I think many of us in the restaurant business gravitate toward this industry because you’re not judged. It’s not about who your parents are, it’s not about how much money you have, it’s not about where you’re from. It’s about what you can do, what you can execute, how you carry yourself, and who you are. A lot of us who are misfits bond in these moments of fire and pressure, so you ignore your problems, but ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. I think as that closet just continues to be filled and that door continues to be slammed shut, eventually those hinges burst.

Q: How did you get on the road to recovery after leaving “Top Chef”?

A: I went to see my therapist, and we had a conversation where he essentially told me, “Brother, this is probably the first time in your life that you chose you—and that’s progress and that’s powerful. You need to appreciate that you wanted to be around people you knew were going to support you in helping with that.”

The second piece to that equation is I wasn’t ready to truly deal with what had really happened, and I just submerged myself in more work. I think that’s always been my addiction, my drug is work. I can get lost in it, I can get absorbed in it, I can disappear in it. I can ignore the world because of the hours that are required or the hours that I justify.

Q: How have you been doing since then?

A: I think since that time, there’s been a lot of unique intervention, unexpected intervention. I think the first one’s the pandemic. I think going through the pandemic and having the world shut down was a pause button many of us needed and didn’t realize it. It stopped the travel, it stopped the work, it stopped the constant clock in, clock out mentality—which then leads you to be alone with your demons to face the things that are actually going on because you don’t have the distractions. So for me, the pandemic was kind of the first point of, “I’ve got to work on me. I’ve got to fix me while trying to keep my businesses afloat and deal with everything going on.”

The second part is I’ve had a lot of colleagues in this industry that have taken their lives, that are lost to addiction, that are dealing with depression and anxiety. I’ve sat on a lot of phone calls at two in the morning talking people off ledges. I think it’s a responsibility to have a platform of thousands and thousands of people and to speak on something that’s real.

Q: How can chefs improve their mental health to live healthier, happier lives?

A: I think there are two things I would tell chefs. One, you’re already good enough. You don’t have anything to prove to anybody. You don’t need a TV show to tell you that you’re good. You don’t need a review. You don’t need an award. You don’t need someone to cosign. You are already good enough, and you have to embrace that. The mirror is the most important validation, and sometimes we all forget that.

I think the second piece of advice that I would say to a chef is, don’t get caught up in thinking that you look weak because you’re talking about mental health. Eventually you’ll break if you hold it all in. And the reality is, an enemy is always going to target their prey away from the pack, so you become an easier target. You’re more vulnerable when you’re by yourself.