Justin Sutherland lends his voice to the Right to Rest and Recover Campaign, interview

While Justin Sutherland brought his culinary talents into people’s homes via his Food Network, Top Chef, and Fast Foodies appearances, the celebrated chef and restaurateur understands that all hospitality workers have a pressing concern beyond finishing a successful dinner service. The Right to Rest and Recover Campaign should be prime table conversation.

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Waking up in the morning with a fever, unable to bend down to tie shoes, or another ailment that makes working a full day difficult are scenarios that many hourly workers face because they cannot take a sick day. Chef Justin Sutherland personally understands how life can change in an instant. Having the ability to rest, recover and then return to work is a luxury that few people in the restaurant industry have. It is time to implore companies to make meaningful changes.  

For many workers missing a workday can be the difference between paying the electric bill that month or trying to make the weekly meal plan stretch a little further. That economic pressure can have some people hoping that the cough disappears, the pain subsides, and the hours pass quickly. More importantly, the longing for paid sick time off becomes greater.  

During a recent conversation with Justin Sutherland, he shared some of his insight and reasoning why he has joined the Right to Rest and Recover Campaign with Theraflu. As Sutherland said, “Missing work is a problem all service industry workers are aware of, especially those living paycheck to paycheck. Hardworking families must make the impossible decision to stay home and jeopardize their financial situation or work while they are sick. When working while sick, they run the risk of hurting those around them and those they are serving, especially during cold and flu season.” 

Although many families understand how one sniffle can turn into house full of sneezes, the restaurant is layer to that family. Anyone who has worked that environment appreciates that family meal is not just a label for a pre-shift dish. It is a time where that group of people connect with each other.  

As Sutherland said, “Restaurants are not just brick and mortar buildings, but important gathering places for communities. The people there are the heart and soul of your meal. COVID-19 and restaurant closures really brought this concept to light.”  

He continued to explain, “Missing holidays, family celebrations and other special events so they can serve others at restaurants are some of the sacrifices service workers make. I think people should be more aware as the industry is often underappreciated.” What is overlooked is that the celebratory birthday dinner out is a special event for the diners but the person who cooked that food might be missing their own family's celebration.  

While this campaign can help spark a conversation, the change is not instantaneous. As Sutherland said, “I’m an advocate of the need for meaningful change within the industry so workers do not feel they have to work when injured or ill. That’s why I’ve partnered with Theraflu on the Right to Rest & Recover campaign, which advocates for legislation to enable everyone – including those in services issues – to have the right to take the time they need to rest and recover when sick.” 

For Sutherland, this issue is very personal. Some people might recall that he suffered a serious boating incident a few years ago.  

Speaking to his own experience, Sutherland said, “I received an incredible level of support from my community of friends and family as well as nationally with celebrities and even strangers. It makes me emotional to think about it.”  

“My situation with my boating accident where I was in the ICU for three weeks, hospitalized for months and out of work for a year, was an extreme example of the impact missing work due to an illness or injury can have on your mental, physical and financial well-being. From a small cold to a massive injury, it’s important for your body to rest. I’m honored to have a platform that enables me to advocate for those going through similar situations.” 

While Sutherland has personal experience, he is not alone in voicing this concerns for this issue. Others in the culinary community, especially those who are well-known names and faces, often champion these causes.  

Sutherland commented, “most chefs have come from a line cook situation and making a low hourly wage and realize what it’s like to not be taken care of when it comes to paid sick time. Most chefs are very outspoken about this issue and have their own charities and foundations to support similar causes.” 

Since food often plays a role in that road to recovery, Sutherland shared which foods helped him. He said, “Food is what fuels our bodies through daily life, especially when we are sick. There are so many natural ingredients that can help us through recovery such as turmeric which helps with liver and kidney health. It’s important to put the right food in your body when sick.” 

“My favorite food for recovery is a good bowl of soup which has hot broth for your throat and spices to clear out your sinuses, such as miso soup. I also enjoy juicing when in recovery and having a green juice or a carrot turmeric juice.” 

While Sutherland can cook many types of cuisines, he has helped to change the conversation in and around Minnesota’s culinary scene. As he looks to expand his offerings, he shared, “The Minnesota culinary scene is thought to be Scandinavian style, but we actually have many influences from different cultures such as Indigenous people, Vietnamese and the largest Somali population in the United States. We have shied away from big names and fine dining and given people of different cultures the recognition they deserve.”  

During the next dinner out, take a moment to think about the person who prepared the food presented at the table. And, maybe consider taking a more to read more about the Right to Rest and Recover Campaign. That day off should not be the difference between someone else fighting to put food on their table.