From The Ritz to rags

19 Aug, 2010
From The Ritz to rags
Michael Quinn (centre, front row) as head chef of The Ritz in the 1980s.
The former head chef at The Ritz in London visits NZ and AUT to share his experiences of dealing with addiction in the hospitality industry.

Englishman Michael Quinn went from head chef at The Ritz in London and cooking for the queen to living under a bridge and an alcoholic.

From high...

The celebrated ‘Mighty Quinn’ cooked for the Queen, was awarded an MBE, made countless television and radio appearances, and had invitations from all over the world to cook and to judge cooking events (including from New Zealand, where, in 1982, he cooked for Prime Minister Robert Muldoon at the Beehive).

To low...

By 1990, the Mighty Quinn, the focused, ambitious, hard-working celebrity chef, was no more. He was a homeless drunk, sleeping rough under bridges or in Salvation Army hostels, mixing with criminals and doing things he never thought he would, to get another fix of his drug, alcohol.

“I was surrounded by alcohol all the time,” says Michael. "There is the social aspect to it - the winding down after a service, working irregular hours, working under high pressure. The drinking culture is huge in the UK and in New Zealand with the explosion of binge drinking.”

Educating the hospitality industry

Now sober, Michael was recently in New Zealand and hosted by AUT University’s School of Hospitality & Tourism promoting the Ark Foundation. The Foundation educates the hospitality industry’s students, employees and management about the dangers of alcohol dependency and other drug misuse.

Professionals, like Michael, who have fallen victim to alcoholism and sought help for their problems give interactive and informative seminars on the effects on the brain and body of excessive drug and alcohol consumption.
“Most people can drink responsibly but 10 per cent of people cross the line with drugs and alcohol and it’s these people we need to help,” he says.

The AUT approach

With Michael’s help AUT’s School of Hospitality & Tourism is looking to introduce drug and alcohol education into its curriculum and is working with industry stakeholders around employee education.

Head of Culinary Arts at AUT University, John Kelly, says AUT aims to train well-rounded professionals with a complete set of skills. “As part of that we also need to consider drug and alcohol education in our programmes.
“We recognise there’s a drink and drug culture within New Zealand and we want to arm our students with all the knowledge we can so they are aware of the dangers for themselves but can also recognise when a colleague needs help,” John says.

“I’m excited to be working with AUT, they are an organisation that is forward thinking and proactive,” Michael says.

While in New Zealand, Michael met with AUT staff and students to talk about his experiences, and also helped serve a lunch, donated by AUT, at Lifewise, an organisation which offers meals to homeless people.