Warning on alcohol

Catering and hospitality students at East Riding College have met the former head chef of the Ritz Hotel in London, Michael Quinn MBE.

Mr Quinn visited the College’s Bridlington campus to give a talk about alcoholism and drug abuse in the industry, having been addicted to alcohol himself in the past.

Having been head-hunted by the Ritz and turning it into one of London’s top eateries, he descended into alcoholism before losing his home, job and family.

Now, he heads the Ark Foundation, a charity which promotes alcohol awareness to catering students nationwide.

Connor Calvert, 17, a level two catering student, said: “Michael Quinn was funny because of the way he was explaining things, but he did make us realise the seriousness of the message he was getting across. It really made me think about alcohol and what it can do to you.”

Emma Parker, 16, a level one catering student, said: “I thought Michael Quinn’s talk was great and very interesting to listen to, he made me realise how dangerous alcohol can be.”

Tutor David Leaf, himself a former executive chef at the Willerby Manor Hotel and first head chef at Tickon Grange, said: “Michael’s story is one that is seen all too often in the catering and hospitality industry, and he communicated some very important messages to the students.

“Being around alcohol all the time means there is a lot of temptation but Michael’s story is a stark warning of how addiction can take you from the top of your profession to rock bottom.”

While at a college in Leeds, Michael was Apprentice Chef of the Year and took up a post of commis chef at London’s Claridges Hotel In 1980, moving up the ranks until, at the age of 35 and already with a Michelin star to his name, he became the first English head chef at the five-star Ritz and breathed new life into its culinary reputation.

He livened up the stuffy menu, including the radical move of writing the menus in English instead of French, and created a new culture in the kitchen and generated a buzz about the place. 
Having turned the restaurant into one of the city’s top eateries, by 1990 he was a homeless drunk, sleeping rough under bridges or in Salvation Army hostels and mixing with criminals.

He was even read the last rites before eventually giving up alcohol in and in 2001 set up the Ark Foundation, to take his story to catering colleges.

Mr Quinn said: “In the hospitality industry, you are surrounded by alcohol all the time. There is the social aspect to it – the winding down after a service, working irregular hours and working under high pressure – and the culture of drinking is enormous in the UK, with an explosion of binge drinking and of young women drinking. It is easy to adopt a work hard, play hard mentality.

“It might be that, through its seminars, the Ark Foundation can just plant a seed so that years later someone who heard me speak will think ‘he was right’ and get some help.”