Chefs and Booze.
My name is Jonathan, I am an alcoholic.
Even now, 12 years sober, part of me is hesitant to share this publicly. Even now, so long after facing my demons, I feel shame and self-conscious writing about this.
So why am I doing it?
Here is why..
For as long as I can remember, drink played a huge part in my life. Everywhere I looked, adults were drinking, at family occasions, after mass, Italia 90. I remember the laughter, and never realised there was anything wrong with this behaviour.
When I started working in the local pub as a kitchen porter on my 15th birthday, I was intrigued by the chefs. These huge men shouting obscenities at each other and anyone who had the misfortune of crossing their paths. The only thing that seemed to calm these forces of nature were the pints, delivered on cue as the last main courses left the kitchen.
It was 1994, I hated school, and knew immediately that I had found my calling.
Fortunately for me, I handled the tasks given to me with enough competence to earn a spot cooking instead of scrubbing, and before long I had worked my way into the team, earning begrudging comments regarding my cooking skills and my unnatural ability to stay drinking with these fully grown men. In those days the measure of a man was in how many pints could be consumed without missing work the next day.
I excelled in both my work and my drinking, and I assumed all was as it should be in the world.
I drank until I was drunk almost every night for the next 15 years, and I suspect I would have done so for another 15 years if my body allowed me too.
It seemed to me that all chefs did this, and I never questioned too deeply why I never missed a night, when others seemed to choose nights off on occasion. In fact my mates missing a night in the pub led to unmerciful slagging from me. Lightweights.
I took my first head chef job at 21, I was a child and wasn't ready, but I needed the cash, by now I was drinking 100 pints a week, not to mention the brandy.
And so it continued, but as I got into my late 20's, this lifestyle had taken a toll. Hungover everyday, eventually I couldn't stop shaking until I had drank 4 or 5 pints before work, on my split, even during work. I had also progressed to drugs. The writing was on the wall.
After 15 years torturing myself and my family, I broke. I told my parents that I needed help.
When word reached the local that I was giving up, a book was opened on how long I would stay sober. Most my mates gave me a few days.
My mum drove me to Hope House, the toughest journey of my life, where I stayed for 30 days and 30 nights.
That place saved my life.
I now know that I was drinking to cloak my shyness and lack of confidence, drink made me feel powerful.
For me it was the going for pints every night that hooked me, I know this is still a tradition for the chefs of many kitchens.
I am not saying do not drink, after all some of the memories I have of the crazy times are just insane, and I do believe at one point it was great craic.
Just be mindful, it can be a trap.
I am now happily married and have 3 wonderful children, and never miss drinking.
But the danger is always there. Just last year a great friend of mine couldn't go on, a man who grew up with me, cooked with me, and yes, drank with me.
I guess I am one of the lucky ones, I have managed to stay sober and I am lucky enough to be good enough, and good enough is enough for me.
If any chef reading this is worried about their drinking, reach out to me day or night, dm me at @jfkeane79 on twitter, I can't guarantee I'll be any help, but I will listen and I will understand, and I would never betray your
Stay safe, and mind yourself
- JONATHAN IS THE EXECUTIVE CHEF IN THE LODGE AT ASHFORD CASTLE AND WILDE’S RESTAURANT.
- THE SON OF A SHEEP FARMER AND GARDENER, JONATHAN GREW UP BESIDE KYLEMORE ABBEY, FARMHOUSE AND GARDENS IN BEAUTIFUL CONNEMARA.
- HE FIRST STARTED WORKING IN A PROFESSIONAL KITCHEN AT THE AGE OF 15 AND IMMEDIATELY DECIDED THIS WAS THE CAREER PATH FOR HIM.
- HAVING TRAINED WITH SOME OF THE WEST’S FINEST CHEFS AND HOTELIERS, JONATHAN WAS A HEAD CHEF BY THE AGE OF 21.
- HE HAS WORKED IN KITCHENS SUCH AS O’GRADYS SEAFOOD RESTAURANT, CASHEL HOUSE HOTEL, ADARE MANOR HOTEL, BYRNE’S RESTAURANT AND THE BLACKBERRY CAFÉ.
- HE HAS COMPLETED STAGIERES IN CILLINI’S SYDNEY AND NO.1 LOMBARD STREET WITH HERBERT BERGER IN LONDON.
- HE WAS RECRUITED FOR THE LODGE (THEN LISLOUGHREY LODGE) IN 2012, AND HAS HELPED THE LODGE TO EVOLVE INTO ONE OF THE WEST’S FINEST EATERIES.
- JONATHAN’S CHILDHOOD HAS A MAJOR INFLUENCE ON HIS MENU’S AND STYLE OF COOKING.
- HE COOKS WITH GORSE FLOWERS, WOOD SORREL, PINE, SEAWEEDS AND CRESSES.
- HE ONLY WORKS WITH THE BEST PRODUCERS SUCH AS KELLY’S BUTCHERS, THE MCHALE BROTHERS IN CASTLEBAR, CUINNEOG BUTTER, ACHILL ISLAND SEA SALT AND GANNETS FISH TO NAME BUT A FEW.
- HIS MENUS ARE STRICTLY SEASONAL AND HE AND HIS TEAM FORAGE FOR INGREDIENTS EVERY DAY.
- JONATHAN TENDS TO HIS POLYTUNNELS DAILY.
- HE IS A MEMBER OF EURO-TOQUES IRELAND, CO-FOUNDER OF THE SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT IN MAYO AND CHAIRPERSON OF CONG FOOD VILLAGE.
- CONG FOOD VILLAGE WAS FOUNDED BY JONATHAN IN JANUARY 2015, WITH THE AIM TO DEVELOP THE VILLAGE OF CONG INTO AN INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED FOOD DESTINATION, AND TOO HELP PROMOTE AND EDUCATE THE LOCAL COMMUNITY ON THE VIRTUES OF REAL, SUSTAINABLE FOOD.
- JONATHAN HAS WON MANY INDUSTRY AWARDS, NOTABLY
- -BEST FINE DINING RESTAURANT IRELAND 2020
- -BEST CHEF IRELAND 2019 GOOD EATING GUIDE
- -BEST CHEF CONNACHT 2017 & 2018 GOOD EATING GUIDE
- -BEST HOTEL RESTAURANT 2017 & 2018 RESTAURANTS ASSOCIATION OF IRELAND
- -BEST FINE DINING HOTEL IN IRELAND 2018 IRISH HOTEL AWARDS