Former Ritz head chef and Ark Foundation founder Michael Quinn has died aged 71 after a long battle with ill health.
Quinn came to prominence in 1980 when, having already achieved a Michelin star as head chef at Gravetye Manor in Sussex, he was named the first British head chef to hold the top job at the Ritz hotel. He was credited with turning the London landmark into one of the city’s top dining destinations through innovative cuisine that was much copied.
It was an achievement that helped to win him an MBE, along with celebrity status, countless television and radio appearances, and invitations to cook for royalty and stars all over the world.
But his remarkable success made Quinn’s fall even more dramatic. He came close to death in 1990 when alcoholism stripped him of fame, fortune and family.
He told The Caterer in 2001: “In 1990, I was told that I would lose everything [if I didn’t stop drinking] – and most of it came true. Alcohol took me from the pinnacle of the catering world into treatment centres, hospitals and then back into the pub. If I’d got well when I had the chance, my sons would have known me as a top chef at the Ritz. But now they don’t.”
That year Quinn embraced sobriety and, realising first hand there was little help for those suffering from alcohol related problems in hospitality, set up the Ark Foundation. The organisation was established to educate the hospitality industry through awareness seminars on alcohol and drug abuse, work for which Quinn, along with the late Peter Kay, was rewarded with a Catey Special Award in 2007.
In the Ark’s first year, Quinn presented drink and drug awareness talks to students at 13 colleges. In 2016 the foundation, now part of Hospitality Action (HA), reached 7,300 students across 179 seminars and offered personal help hospitality employees through the HA Employee Assistance Programme.
Nicholas Evans, head chef at Northcote, said: “Michael had a huge heart and loved the hospitality industry. He wanted to help others within the industry who had fallen on hard times, and it was a pleasure helping him to organise and cook for the first charity dinner for the Ark Foundation in 2001 at Newbury Manor. He will be missed.”
Hospitality Action chief executive Penny Moore added: “At Hospitality Action we are deeply saddened to hear the news of Michael’s passing. Michael was the founder of The Ark Foundation which educated young people in the hospitality of the dangers of alcohol and drug misuse. He will be fondly remembered not only as a great chef but also someone who made a real difference to the hospitality industry.”
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