Recovering from alcoholism in the restaurant industry: chef Craig Strippel shares his story

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Addiction problems in the restaurant industry aren't a secret. But sometimes statistics serve as a stark reminder of the extent of a problem. Did you know that chefs are almost twice as likely to die from alcoholism than the average person?

Another way of bringing the all-too-often ignored fact to light is for chefs to tell their stories, and that is what chef Craig Strippel, who almost took his own life last year but is now on the road to recovery, has decided to do. 

The chef and father of three spoke to The Guardian as he had recently begun training for the London Marathon – all part of his journey to kick his drinking habit once and for all.

The father of three and Newlyn chef said his problem started when he reached a senior chef level.

The long hours pushed him to the limits of exhaustion and he used alcohol as a means of coping with tiredness and stress.  And despite having gone awol from several restaurants he had worked at, he said none of his employers had ever asked if he needed any help.

“There are probably side effects with every job,” he said.

“But with chefs it was usually drugs and alcohol.”

A pivotal moment for the chef came in September last year, when he came close to taking his own life, after he had spent the summer working alone in a kitchen in Penzance.

Colleagues offered him beers throughout the day, customers tipped him in drinks and he joined his friends for social drinks off after each stressful, tiring days’ work.

Craig described running a kitchen in the summer with just the help of a kitchen porter as “bloody hard,” and said he could handle it all –  a “charcoal grill, two fryers, a fish fryer, two big hobs, a grill and an oven” only if he didn’t speak to anyone. He said he drank to make up for sleep deprivation and to help him cope with stress.

One night after drinking with his colleagues the chef decided to take his own life by jumping into the sea, but was saved by a fisherman who spotted him and alerted the authorities.

The chef has taken up running to help him in his journey to recovery - recently running the London Marathon, and eyeing several other such races around the world.

He has also returned to work in a kitchen,  which he said was the only option available to him in the region, where work is sparse,  but as a KP.  

The chef has received help from Addaction, a charity which provides one-on-one advice to people suffering from addiction, and is a vocal supporter of mental health awareness campaigns. 

While working conditions – long hours, high stress levels, little oversight and the availability of alcohol at all times  - are bound to play a role, the glamorised culture of reckless behaviour among chefs is widely seen as needing to be stamped out to stop addiction from plaguing the lives of the next generation of chefs.

Chefs, have you ever  suffered from addiction issues? Were you offered any help at work? Do you think the industry needs to do more to tackle the problem? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 17th July 2019

Recovering from alcoholism in the restaurant industry: chef Craig Strippel shares his story