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Raleigh chef gets real about anxiety, uncertain future

For chef Katsuji Tanabe, the anxiety starts around midnight.

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Kathy Hanrahan, Out
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RALEIGH, N.C. — For chef Katsuji Tanabe, the anxiety starts around midnight.

"I just usually go from like three to four in the morning just moving. Can't sleep," Tanabe said in a call from his home.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down restaurant dining rooms, Tanabe was busy at his new downtown Raleigh hotspot High Horse. The restaurant, which opened in November, offered take-out for awhile after Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the dining room closures in mid-March, but Tanabe said his restaurant was never made for take-out.

"Our restaurant, it's a social experience. People come to our restaurant not to be fed, food is something like 40 percent of the experience," Tanabe said noting the ambience, the music and people as a huge component of the restaurant. "Our business was not designed for pick-up food."

The BRAVO "Top Chef" alum moved his family from Los Angeles to Raleigh to open High Horse, which is his seventh restaurant. In LA, Tanabe and his family had a 750-square foot apartment on the seventh floor.

"Here, at least we should have two acres. We have a huge house. The kids could be running outside. My wife upstairs. I am downstairs. We have that sense of space," he said. "Making the move to the Carolinas was definitely the right call. It feels nice."

Before the coronavirus, Tanabe said he doesn't think he ever had off more than three days at a time. Now, he's spending time with his family and doing cooking demonstrations on his YouTube channel. He's calling up chefs asking for recipes and they are doing the same. Just don't ask him for his grandmother's cornbread recipe (served at High Horse). He is not giving that one out.

In addition to recipe sharing, Tanabe has also been open to help support other members of the culinary industry dealing with mental health issues.

"I have made it a goal of myself for the past year to be that person that if somebody wants to talk about having a bad day or being sad or being depressed or having anxiety, reach out to me. I don't have the answers, but sometimes it's just nice to be able to talk to someone, just get it out," he said.

Tanabe said he the letdown from losing BRAVO's "Top Chef" left him depressed.

"I don't recommend to anyone to do it because unless you're the winner, everybody after the show goes through a really bad depression," he said. "It's an awful feeling being a loser."

It took him a couple weeks after each season to "shake it off," but said some of his fellow chefs went into depressions that lasted for a month or more.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster, Tanabe went back and did the show two more times.

"I'm a sucker for pain," Tanabe says with a laugh, noting that the show has helped me become a better chef. "The first time it hurt me a lot. By the third time, I was like 'whatever.' I like cooking. I like making new friends."


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