Chef Sean Brock Embraces Sobriety, Sells Off Vintage Bourbon Collection

By Victoria Kim 07/11/17

“I was concerned about killing myself not by choice, but by being unhealthy and miserable...I was miserable and angry at the world.”

Sean Brock
Chef Sean Brock Photo via YouTube

A renowned chef quit drinking, sold off his vintage bourbon collection, and is now on a mission to promote a healthy lifestyle among his fellow restaurant workers—with him leading by example. 

Dubbed the “Southern culinary revivalist” by the New York Times, Sean Brock shot to chef stardom for his take on Southern cuisine as the executive chef of Husk in Charleston, South Carolina.

But with all the hard work and success, paired with the fact that hospitality workers are ranked among the highest for substance use disorders, Brock’s physical and emotional health suffered. The Times described Brock’s old self as angry and isolated who “more than one person, including Mr. Brock himself, suspected might die young.”

“I was concerned about killing myself not by choice, but by being unhealthy and miserable,” said Brock, who was featured in the series Mind of a Chef. “The only emotion I knew was anger. I was miserable and angry at the world.”

Brock’s heavy drinking was compounded by his diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune disease that interferes with his vision and motor skills. 

Those around him could tell he was in trouble. “In a short period of time, he’s gone from a young boy from a little town in Virginia to a point where he can’t walk down the street in Charleston or New York without someone identifying him,” said his business partner David Howard. “That’s a blessing and a burden, and requires you to always be on point. With that comes addiction.”

After a loving intervention in January, surrounded by his girlfriend and David Howard, among others, Brock spent 45 days at the Meadows treatment center in Arizona, and came back to live out his “rebirth” as a sober chef. 

He sold off his collection of expensive vintage bourbon and added therapy, support groups, and self-care to his daily routine. “Surrendering is the greatest feeling on the face of the planet,” he said.

Brock is now channeling his newfound recovery toward helping fellow chefs and restaurant workers. “If I can inspire people to take better care of themselves in this industry, that will be my greatest contribution,” he said. 

He is on the board of the Heirloom Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to supporting workers’ mental health in the restaurant industry.

Breaking anonymity and “coming out” in recovery has its risks, Brock acknowledges, but he says it’s worth it if he’s able to help in any way. 

“I’m well aware of the dangers of opening up this early in sobriety,” he tells Eater Charleston. “I’ve been warned many, many times, but the simple fact is that people around me are dying. People that have worked for me and people that were my friends—they’re not here anymore. If I have the ability to help even one person become happier and healthier, then I’m willing to take that sacrifice.”

His girlfriend Adi Noe supports his decision. “It’s a way for him to be accountable and to do service,” she told the Times. “I told him instead of being known for bourbon, you could be known for choosing recovery and choosing health.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr