Smoking quite literally flattens your taste buds, squashing your ability to fully appreciate all the fabulous flavours in food.1 So when you quit smoking and your taste buds begin to recover2, it's no wonder that your appreciation of food and its flavours can move to a whole new level.
But don't just take our word for it. Help to Quit caught up with Adelaide chef Joel Van Bussel, who's also a former smoker. Joel knows first-hand what it's like to be caught in the trap of smoking and explains how going smoke-free helped him to improve his health and sense of taste, and accelerate his career.
Read-on for Joel's top tips on quitting smoking and getting creative in the kitchen
Q. Where did your interest in food and cooking come from?
A. My dad was a chef and my mum and dad worked together running camps in remote communities throughout Australia. That got me interested in food from an early age. I was always travelling with mum and dad and loved the atmosphere and the buzz of being around other people. I also loved the lifestyle that chefs had: I figured I could surf in the mornings and cook at night!
Q. What's great about being a chef in South Australia?
A. I moved to South Australia about three years ago and the first thing I noticed was the quality of the local produce: it's a real point of difference and easy to access too.
In Adelaide, we also like to do our own thing with food and we're really starting to be thought of as heavy hitters on the national food scene. There are so many bars and pop-ups in Adelaide now. It's a great place to be working with food.
Q. Can you tell me more about your food philosophy?
A. I focus on what's in season, and I love big bold flavours that aren't overly complicated. As a chef at Adelaide cafe, First Order Coffee, I work closely with the owner to come up with dishes together and then perfect them.
We try to do things a bit differently. At the moment, I'm making a strawberry vinegar with new season strawberries. So we take our eggs on toast and serve it with an asparagus and herb salad that's dressed with the strawberry vinegar.
Q. So many chefs seem to smoke. Can you remember when and why you started smoking?
A. I started smoking on and off when I was about 16 and by the time I was 17, I was smoking full time.
When I started my chef apprenticeship at 20, I was smoking more. There's lots of smoking and alcohol in a chef's world: late nights, split shifts and pressure mean it's part of the restaurant game to smoke.
Q. So what motivated you to give up smoking?
A. As I progressed in my career, I wanted to move into fresher, healthier flavours and more refined types of cooking. I had my eye on working in more upmarket restaurants and smoking wasn't part of that scene.
Q. How did you quit smoking?
A. I actually gave up smoking with the help of my parents. I told them that I wanted to stop and they supported me. Instead of spending money on smoking, I gave it to them and they put it away for me. It was really good to tell someone else what I was doing; it made me accountable and meant I had support.
At first I started by cutting back on smoking, but then I started smoking fulltime again. So I decided to go cold turkey. It was difficult, but for me, it was the best way to do it.
Q. How did you feel when you quit smoking? And how did quitting affect your work?
A. Quitting smoking was one of the best things I did for myself: personally and for my career.
I quickly noticed a difference in the way I felt: I wanted to do more exercise, started surfing again and got my fitness back. Because I felt better health wise, it rubbed off on every aspect of my work.
And it made a noticeable difference in the kitchen. The smell of smoke on you really lingers, even if you constantly wash your hands. So I didn't smell anymore.
Quitting smoking improved my overall attitude to work. All of a sudden I wasn't taking extra breaks like other chefs were and just kept working.
Q. What about your taste buds?
A. Smoking puts a shield on your taste buds.
When I quit smoking, everything became a lot more flavourful. Subtle flavours in dishes became more noticeable, and so did the balance of flavours – it became easier for me to pinpoint individual flavours.
Because I could taste more, it helped me to change my cooking style and get more in-depth into my cooking and career.
Q. Do you have any advice for people who want to quit?
A. If you really want to quit, take the steps that you are comfortable with and do it your own way. Have a plan and stick to it. Eventually it will happen.
When I was struggling with quitting, a friend told me to keep going and that I would get there – and if I needed to make several attempts, then it was all part of the process. It was good advice.
Q. And some advice for quitters who want to get creative in the kitchen?
A. If you're interested in cooking, get in the kitchen and start playing around with flavours. Don't make it a chore or over-complicate it. Have a few core ingredients and then experiment, and most of all, enjoy yourself!
Personally, I don't like to look at too many recipes, because everyone seems to be an expert. I prefer to rely on my own experimentation and enjoyment. When you start with the ingredients and find your own groove, that's when it's really exciting.
Q. I hear you have a quick and tasty BBQ recipe for readers?
A. Yes, it's my Sticky BBQ chicken. It's super-simple to make and packed full of fresh flavours to get your recovering taste buds really tingling.
To find out more about the various options available to help you quit smoking, read our article Take control. Choose your own quit method. You're 4x more likely to quit with the help of a healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided3, so talk to your doctor for advice.