My story of addiction goes back to age 10, growing up in Kenora, Ont., a small community about 400 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. Both my father and grandmother were alcoholics and after my parents divorce I felt comfort in food, eating sugar-laced junk that ballooned my weight to 200 pounds - I became a very unhappy kid and turned to substances to try and numb my sadness.
It started with alcohol before I was even a teenager... then I was smoking marijuana at age 12. My lifestyle spiralled downward from there. I started selling marijuana in junior high at age 14 to make money to support my habit.
My addictions continued onward and downward with both cocaine and crack. I got kicked out of Grade 11 at age 18, and by then was a full-blown addict.
Even my first culinary job as a pizzeria’s line cook was just a hideout to sell drugs.
One thing led to another and soon I was in jail with a $7,000 fine for stealing a truck. Then I was busted in 2004 for selling dope. I was very well-known in Kenora, which is not a big town, as the go-to guy for drugs. The surprising thing is that I didn’t get busted earlier.
I then moved to Sudbury to try and make a change but my demons followed me... I found a job selling everything from kitchenware to computers door-to-door for three years. I was actually pretty good at it, and received an outstanding achievement award as top salesman. I was making money, seemed to be doing well but when I moved to Hamilton I got into crack and then heroin. I started stealing from anyone, anywhere, even on the street. Finally the company said I’m going nowhere if I don’t clean myself up.
The message didn’t quite sink in... I was nailed by police in Barrie for driving under suspension and sunk deeper into addiction, got into more trouble, and ended up in jail in Penetanguishene in Simcoe County.
I wasn’t going anywhere, I had no friends, I pushed my family to the point they couldn’t trust me or put up with my crap anymore. It wasn’t until I was 26 and incarcerated that I started to wonder what I wanted to do with my life.
After being released I moved back to Kenora and the Ontario Works program and the Community Learning Centre in Kenora put me through a four-month cooking program at Confederation College.
A light went off — I really enjoyed cooking — and I landed a job in the kitchen at the local Best Western. I also connected with a rehab counsellor who knew of a place in Ottawa — the Anchorage Addiction Recovery program at the Booth Centre, run by the Salvation Army. After completing the cooking program, I moved to Ottawa and checked myself in, and have been clean since Feb. 11, 2008. I remember the date precisely, it was a major moment in my life... Seven, sober months later, I enrolled in the cook’s apprenticeship program at Algonquin College, where I found my passion and determination to continue living my life free of drugs and alcohol.
Each recipe is an instrument of recovery; a personal expression of my journey. I picked up the name Chef Recovery halfway through Algonquin... What I do is take words that mean something during my recovery and match them with appropriate food.
I Started working in the hotels once I got through college, which gave me a true understanding of what food & cooking really is. At 5 years clean and sober I moved to Fort McMurray Alberta, to advance being a Chef. I landed myself a great opportunity at Keyano College as the Executive Chef, which opened the doors to a ton of amazing things. I have had the privilege to do catering events for Wayne Gretzky, Daryl Sittler, Bobby Hall, Alice Copper, Leonardo Dicaprio, Neil Young, Daryl Hanna and the list goes on. Now at over 8 years clean & sober I have moved back home to kenora, Ont. where I was the Executive Chef at The BoatHouse Lake Of The Woods. I now own my own catering company called
Chef Recovery Catering, along with launching a food line called Walleye Wings Inc with my business partner Rob Armstrong , which is all things Fresh Water Fish. My wife & I have just had our first baby, her name is Destiny along with our other beautful daughter Shanyka. Family, Food & Sharing Hope is what gives me great pride in my success as an Executive Chef but always remembering that I have to celebrate each day, one day at a time. I have also become an ambassador for Michael Landsberg's Charity #SickNotWeak & I recently did a Wellmen Mens Adventure Club with fonder Shae Emry from the CFL.
Never give up... Keep living the dream!
Chef Recovery - Jay Barnard