Lawrence Keogh – My Life in Hospitality

12 March 2010 by
Lawrence Keogh – My Life in Hospitality

Lawrence Keogh is the head cook at Roast restaurant.

Lawrence Keogh's kitchen career began when he was just 14 years old, and was "dragged along" to help his brother-in-law as a young commis chef, despite an original aspiration to be a cameraman.

However if there was ever any reluctance to cook, it soon disappeared. Keogh quickly developed a desire to learn every aspect of hospitality.

"I wanted to do everything - restaurants, brasseries, fine-dining, volume catering, hotels," he says. "Ultimately I wanted to be the head chef at a big New York hotel."

As a result, for more than 25 years Keogh has taken every opportunity to learn from all pockets of the restaurant trade. Beginning as a second commis chef at the Berkeley Hotel, he worked his way up through the ranks in a broad variety of establishments including the Ritz Club, the Goring Hotel and Kensington Place Restaurant, where he worked alongside renowned chef Rowley Leigh.

Following three years as executive head chef for Smollensky's Restaurants, Keogh helped to open Terence Conran's Bluebird Restaurant in Chelsea, where he was to be head chef.

"We had no idea it was going to be that busy. The café just took off. We were serving 400 for lunche, 500 for dinner. The volume was immense," he recalls.

However it was during this period that Keogh's health started to deteriorate. He began to get very tired and suffered from nausea, dizzy spells and memory loss as a result of chronic renal disease, which he had been diagnosed with at the age of 22.

Keogh's illness resulted in numerous dietary restrictions, which unsurprisingly frustrated the chef. Rather than be told what he couldn't eat, he asked what food he was allowed so that he could write Food for Life, a collection of recipes for dialysis patients and their families. All proceeds from the 25,000 copies sold went to the National Kidney Association.

Fortunately for Keogh, one morning he received news that a perfectly-matched kidney was available. He was in theatre at 4pm and out by 10pm, with instantly good results.

Grateful for his new lease of life, Keogh remains a keen supporter of World Kidney Day, while continuing to drive his career at Roast restaurant, in Borough Market, London Bridge.

The kidney transplant gave him the chance to achieve in his personal life too. "I've had two children since then. The transplant gave life not just to me, but also to my son and daughter," he adds.

HIGHS… Undeterred by Keogh's poor health, Marco Pierre White approached him about a head chef role at Quo Vadis, in Soho, London.

"At first, I didn't like him. He kept speaking over me when I answered him. So I told him I wanted to be a professional morris dancer," says Keogh. At that point White spat his food and drink out, laughing, and declared: "I like you!" and offered Keogh the job.

LOWS…As Keogh's condition worsened, he was forced on to dialysis. Despite support from his employers, he began to get very ill.

"I had leg ulcers from fluid retention and I was in a dreadful amount of pain. I was racked up on painkillers, but I didn't realise how bad it was until I went into hospital and discovered it was affecting my heart. One night I was in bed attached to dialysis and ECGs and I thought: ‘This is it. Game over.'" Fortunately he survived to tell the tale.

World Kidney Day2010 took place on 11 March

Family Fiancée, two children
Age 44
Favourite holiday Majorca
Drives Yamaha Thundercat 600
Motto Be humble in success and humble in failure

Watch your wastage. Look at what you've thrown away and see what you could have made with it. Food in the bin equals pound coins in the bin.

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