'It's great to be in recovery, it's great to be sober today'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Chef Dom Robinson is poised to open his new restaurant in the autumn and it is a Renaissance, or rebirth, in more ways than one. 

His new restaurant, Renaissant, will draw on the chef's classical French training - the reason he first fell in love with food. "It's me reborn, it's the actual interior of the restaurant reborn, it's my food reborn," he said, in the first episode of the Grilled podcast co-hosted by The Wilderness chef owner and Dom's competitor on Great British MenuAlex Claridge


"It's a second chance at life for me, it's a second chance to cook again somewhere that I put three years of blood sweat and tears in," at his Michelin-starred restaurant, The Blackbird, which, he said, "almost killed me."

"It's a chance to do it again the right way."  

Dom hasn't been a chef for two decades for the the money or the lifestyle. "The reason I do it is because I love cooking and that's it. It's in me, it's what I do, it's a natural instinctive thing for me to do and it's the only thing that I can ever do and it's my first love." 

But he wasn't content at The Blackbird - and this despite having achieved what many would consider the pinacle of their career as a chef.

"The Michelin star was the jewel in the crown of the things that I thought would make me happy, and it didn't," he said, because he was compromising on what he wanted to do at the restaurant, all the while battling with addiction and alcoholism. 

Before he went into recovery, "I didn't have any accountability - I didn't have any routine, I was doing the takeaway, I was finishing early, starting late. It accelerated my drinking and drug use to an unmanageable point very quickly after years of skirting before the line of full-blown alcoholism and addiction."

What's more, "If I'm cooking nice food and getting a load of muddy dog walkers and cyclists while I'm trying to cook nice food, I'm going to get resentment about that, and for someone like me that's going to be a killer."

Coming out of the other end of it, he said, "helped me to realise that in order not to have that confliction and that resentment then I need to be treated myself."

'That was it. I thought: 'I can't do this anymore.' I was done'

Dom has been sober for 13 months and has the demeanour of someone relieved of a huge burden.

The moment he realised he needed to make a change came after talking to a therapist and to a friend of his who was already in recovery. "My drinking was just escalating and escalating," he explained. "It got to a point where I physically could not stop drinking, in the morning, popping valium to try and calm my nerves and I physically could not stop." 

"I remember one night drinking to black out, waking up the next day, I called my mate and I spent the whole next day just drinking to try and calm the shakes that I had." 

"I was drinking all day," he said, "I went upstairs, collapsed on the bed in the middle of the day," while his team worked through the day preparing takeaways. 

"I woke up in an empty pub at ten o'clock at night, with my chef whites still on my bed not remembering what had happened throughout the day. That was it. I thought: 'I can't do this anymore.' I was done."

"It was rapid. From twenty years of drug and alcohol use, misuse and abuse, binge drinking," he continued, "it just reached that point where I just snapped. An internal snap. I just couldn't do it anymore and it was the best day of my life."

The chef is happy to speak candidly about his addictions, partly because, he said, "it's about owning your s**t," and because he knows that by doing so he may be able to help people who feel alone in dealing with their problems.

"It's a f****g miserable existence, it really is, but it doesn't have to be like that. It's great to be in recovery, it's great to be sober today."

Calling the process "a bridge to a normal life," he said, "it helps me be the best person I can be on a daily basis."

"And sometimes, yeah, my head does still go back up my a**," he laughed, "but now I'm honest with myself. If I'm short with someone at work, or with the kids or my wife, I notice straight away and I apologise for it." 

"In my previous life," he added, "I would have had resentment towards someone for a perceived wrong against me, or jealousy of someone else's kitchen and that would just build into resentment." 

"Now I have the ability to be honest with myself, 'okay, you've been out of order, you've been an a*****e, have some balls and apologise for it and draw a line under it." 

'Someone like me never had a chance'

Asking whether the problem is intrinsic to the industry is a bit of a hot potato - but to Dom's mind, it warrants more than a simple yes or no answer.

"I'm an addict, I'm an alcoholic," he said, and, while there are different opinions on the nature or nurture front, "I think I was born this way." 

"I was always restless, irritable, discontent - I was a f****g alcoholic before I even picked up a drink." 

However, he continued, "I don't think the industry helps, I think it's a breeding ground."

"If you think about an industry where if you're the biggest drinker or the biggest cokehead it's a good thing, it's drinking in the kitchen, beers after work, getting smashed, a drink in the morning to sort yourself out. 

"Someone like me never had a chance. But equally, it's rife in so many industries, I don't think you can blame the industry. 

For Dom, the alcohol and substances were a way of shielding him from the world he had come to fear. While outside of the kitchen he was shy and reserved, "put a drink in me or some drugs in me and I'm a different person. Equally, put me in that kitchen and put that chef's jacket on me and you're in my world." 

A head chef at 26, "that chef's jacket is like a suit of armour. It changes the way you feel. That's what addiction and alcoholism is about, it's using other things to change the way that you feel, in a nutshell."

With this in mind, Alex Claridge asked if he thought the industry should be doing more to tackle addiction, "knowing that it's a petri dish for triggers, for opportunity, for all of the rest of it." 

Dom replied that "there's a lot of mental health chat in the industry these days and various charities here and there, but in my opinion not enough of it is angled towards addiction because it is rife in the industry." 

Having said that, the brutal reality of addiction is that nobody else can make the decision to confront it other than the person suffering. The most important thing is to keep the conversation flowing, so that nobody has to live in the belief that they are alone in their affliction.

Encouraging anyone who wants to talk to him to get in touch on social media, he said, "you need to realise that there is help out there for you. You just need to reach out." 

"There is help out there, there are hotlines you can call, you've got various recovery fellowships, NA, CA, AA..." 

"You don't have to do it on your own. Addiction is a disease that wants you on your own, it wants you isolated." 

"You have to be willing, you have to want it, but it's not something that you need to do on your own." 

Conscious of his past shortcomings, Dom isn't phased by what others might think of him, but hopes that anyone who needs it will find some comfort in his story.

He will soon be opening a new restaurant, cooking the food closest to his heart with enough presence of mind and body to do so to the best of his ability.

Going back into the kitchen after getting sober, he said, "I was a bit worried. I was like, 'can I do this if I'm not getting pissed at the bar doing my mise en place list every night, getting that fury in me and waking up in the morning doing it all over again?"

"Am I going to be the same," he wondered, mumbling something about not wanting to sound pretentious, "is it going to do something to my creative spark? Will it do something to my imagination, will it take some of my passion?'"

"But it didn't. It felt different in a good way. I felt more switched on, more focused, certainly less forgetful. Everything is so much f*****g easier when you're not hungover every day." 

If you or someone you know has been affected by the issues raised in this article, you may find the following 24/7 resources helpful:

Alcoholics Anonymous
Great Britain
 - or call 0800 316 0331 free of charge

- Contact Recovery.Org or call 0203 553 0324 for support and signposting to the appropriate service

 - The Burnt Chef Support Service

Counselling, legal advice and support from Hospitality Action

The Samaritans Helpline 116 123 -

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 3rd August 2021

'It's great to be in recovery, it's great to be sober today'