Chef Recovery

The names Jay Barnard gives his signature dishes tell his story of redemption. 

March 16, 2012 by Linda Leigh

As he hustles about the kitchen making last-minute tweaks to the main courses, Jay Barnard doesn’t seem out of place among the other chefs and sous chefs in the Delta Hotel’s kitchen in Ottawa. Yet this man had once bought and sold drugs, and was arrested and incarcerated.

Out of Control
Jay Barnard’s story of addiction goes back to the age of eight. Unable to cope with his parents’ divorce, he turned to food for comfort. Within months he had bulged to a disturbing 200 pounds. By the time he was 12, Jay was drinking. At 14, he bought marijuana. It wasn’t long before he was using harder drugs.

“With no fear of being arrested or ripped off, I was scoring drugs on the street,” Jay recalls. “Getting high gave me a brief escape from my overwhelming feelings of sadness, confusion and abandonment.”

Eventually, the consequences of drug abuse and addiction became worse than the original problem Jay was trying to cope with. At 18, Jay was expelled from school for selling drugs. He was also jailed for stealing a truck—busted with $13,000 worth of marijuana in his possession—and then incarcerated for driving while under suspension.

In an attempt to create a new life, Jay left Kenora, Ont., a small community northwest of Thunder Bay where he had grown up, for Sudbury, Ont. He found a job selling everything from trinkets and toys to kitchenware and computers. He soon became a top salesman. His door-to-door expertise took him with the same company to Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton, Ont.

But Jay was too weak to overcome his addictions. His appetite for crack cocaine increased and his addiction now included highly addictive heroin.

Following a promotion, Jay moved to Barrie, Ont. He created a business that soon crumbled due to his cocaine binges. Devastated financially and psychologically, Jay ingested a hazardous amount of unfamiliar pills, but after a brief hospital stay, he was back to drinking whiskey and taking crack.

Jay returned to Kenora and became a cook’s apprentice at a hotel. It wasn’t long before he was arrested for assault while trying to claim a drug debt. He was fired and thrown in prison.

“Jail was always safe for me,” explains Jay. “I had no bills to pay, I was fed and clothed—no worries. But this time, it was different.”

Now 27, in a moment of clarity, Jay reflected on the mess he was in. He’d put the need to use drugs above everything else, including important relationships. He knew he had to get clean.

Following his release, Jay detoxed. Soon after, he enrolled in The Salvation Army’s Anchorage Addictions Program in Ottawa. The residential, four-month, abstinence-based treatment program for chemically dependent men saved his life.

“When I came to Anchorage in February 2008, the staff accepted me and always had an ear to listen,” says Jay. “They wanted me to get better. For the first time in decades, I felt cared about.”

Overcoming addiction wasn’t easy for Jay, but the Salvation Army facility provided him with the structure he needed to live a sober life and transition back into society and employability.

Now things are happening that Jay never thought possible. He enrolled in a cook’s apprenticeship program at Ottawa’s Algonquin College and graduated in 2009. He is third chef at the Delta Hotel in Ottawa and is also working part-time at the Westin Hotel in town. This past month, Jay celebrated four years of sobriety.

Jay, who now brands himself “Chef Recovery,” uses his recipes to describe his journey. “I take words that meant something during my recovery and match them with appropriate food,” says Jay. “My dishes have catchy titles like Chef Recovery’s Addictive Chocolate Delight, Jay’s Forever Sobering Apple Slaw Shrimp and New Beginnings Sweet Chili Crusted Cornish Hen. They help me remember where I came from.”


  1. A wonderful inspiring story. Jay, as you well know you came out of so much and since you have done so much with your sobriety. Everyone who knows you or knows about you is so very happy to see your life improve. Keep Living The Dream

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