From Skegness ‘donkey boy’ to award-winning celebrity chef - the extraordinary rise of Jason Atherton

A chef who grew up in Skegness and went on to work with Gordon Ramsay has just been crowned Chefs’ Chef of the Year at a top London awards ceremony.

Jason Atherton has been crowned Chefs Chef of the Year 2019.
Jason Atherton has been crowned Chefs Chef of the Year 2019.

Jason Atherton now lives a life of a global jet-setter and TV personality - a far cry from his humble beginnings in coastal Lincolnshire.

Having spent much of his youth living in a caravan in Skegness and working with donkeys on the beach, the 48 year-old now boasts a portfolio of 18 restaurants around the world, where he hob-nobs with the rich and famous.

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His culinary expertise has just been recognised with a prestigious AA Hospitality Award - picking up the coveted Chefs’ Chef of the Year title.

Jason grew up in Skegness, and used to work with donkeys on the beach. Image: @_SOCIALCOMPANY

On winning, Jason commented: “When you win Chef’s Chef of the Year it’s the award where the chefs vote for you, so for me to be voted by my peers it’s just incredible.

“I was not expecting it, I’m absolutely thrilled to bits.”

Described as an ‘A-lister among the UK’s elite chefs’, Jason said he didn’t always want to be a chef - and only took up home economics at school ‘because there was a girl in the class who I fancied’.

After a brief stint training with the Army Catering Corps, which Jason admits he ‘hated’ - he went on to work as a chef in a Skegness hotel before leaving the town to hone his craft in the kitchens of culinary greats, including Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White and Nico Ladenis.

Jason now lives the life of a globe-trotting celebrity chef. Image: @_SocialCompany

He later joined the Gordon Ramsay group in 2001, working as one of the sweary celebrity’s top chefs.

Jason later left Ramsay to build his own brand, The Social Company, in 2010.

A spokesman for the AA Hospitality Awards said: “His flagship Mayfair venue ‘Pollen Street Social’ launched in 2011 to huge acclaim; in 2017 it joined that rarefied group of UK restaurants with five AA Rosettes.”

His restaurants include ‘City Social’ in London’s Gherkin skyscraper, along with fancy eateries in New York, Dubai, Shanghai and the Philippines.

Jason has also written four cook books and appears regularly on TV - with shows including Saturday Kitchen, Great British Menu and fronting BBC2’s The Chefs’ Brigade.

“My ethos is to do better tomorrow than I did today. If you can do that every day you can’t help but succeed,” he said.

Born in Sheffield, but relocated to Skegness as a child, Jason and his mum spent three years living on a caravan park due to financial difficulties.

His mother later opened a guest house in the town with her new partner, and encouraged Jason to start earning a wage himself. So, at the tender age of 11, he would get up at the crack of dawn each day to look after the Skegness beach donkeys, and lead visitors on rides along the sand during the summer season.

Speaking about his childhood, Jason added: “Yes, I was a donkey boy. I did that for three or four seasons, and I loved it.”