When I first approached John about chatting to me for this article he was enthusiastic about sleep and how important it is to him. In 2016, John was diagnosed with a brain tumour and his ongoing recovery is mainly a result of the food he eats and how he lives. A way that can only be described as quietly intentional. He eats in a way that is good for his brain and works in a way that facilities this so he can live a life that is right for him. Life wasn’t always that way for John and, with other projects in the pipeline, how he eats, sleeps, works and lives is important.
I began by asked John about his bedtime routine.
I need to be in bed sleeping by 11, latest 12 so I can get seven or eight hours. I’ll have a light dinner by eight o’clock. I’ve then got three hours before I sleep.
I’m always thinking about it through the day, how am I ending the day, so I’m consciously planning and thinking about it because sleep for me is so important. It’s important I get about seven, eight hours of sleep, otherwise my day will suffer. I now have a Head Chef at the restaurant, so everything runs the same, but I’ve got consistency as far as going to bed.
For dinner, I’ll have maybe fish or chicken and salad, something a little bit lighter than lunch. Then I might go out for a walk and gradually ease down before I go to bed, that’s the idea. Mentally slow down. That’s been a journey really, I’m getting better at it.
What’s your typical morning routine?
I do yoga six times a week so I get up at seven o’clock in the morning. As my lunch will be quite heavy I don’t have breakfast so I‘m balancing it out. I’ll have a coffee. You’re meant to shower before you go to Ashtanga Yoga, warm your body up and then shower afterwards as well. So, I shower, I drink a cup of water with apple cider vinegar and then I’m out the door. I come back and I shower again. I’ll have a protein shake smoothie and then that’s me for the day.
What was life before Food by John Lawson?
Back when I was working for Raymond Blanc at Manoir (Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons) when I was going off to my college course, I worked there for three years and we were doing 18-hour days, five, six days a week. I’d finish around 12, 1 o’clock in the morning. We’d leave, marched on down to the pub, have a drink in the pub and we’d come home and socialise. We wouldn’t go to bed till 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.
Then I would be up again at 6 or 7 o’clock and I would do this maybe twice, three times a week. Also in New York, working with Gordon Ramsey, it was similar because I was finishing work at a similar time.
Obviously what happened to me, in Melbourne when I had my brain tumour, sleep was so important with where my tumour was and for the recovery of that.
That must have been a difficult time.
For me to function properly I found sleep for me particularly became so so important. If I wasn’t sleeping I literally couldn’t function. I couldn’t remember things. I couldn’t show up to be who I wanted to be. Those things became so apparent. Even though they’re there anyway as you get older, that was almost like a necessity moment. I now needed to put these things in place, and that’s when everything really changed for me, that lifestyle was behind me, that flip happened.
How do you know you haven’t had enough sleep or haven’t slept well?
I’m a feeling kind of person. If I wake up the next day I know if I haven’t slept properly. It really is based on that. I think if you’ve got the right routine and the right sleep routine, when you wake up the next day you know if you’ve had a good night’s sleep or not. Sometimes if I haven’t had a good night’s sleep then I’ll just maybe miss yoga and I be like, “I didn’t sleep that well”, and I won’t be too hard on myself.
I’m working on a book. Food for the brain, food for benefiting the brain. It’s my book but it’s in conjunction with my neurosurgeon and my nutritionist as well. It’s going to be an incredible book really because it’s for everyone.
What tips would you give someone who is working in a similar situation as you have?
I think the reality is, restaurant hours are getting better I think, the hours of shifts, but I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. There were more strict rules coming into play but that was happening slowly, and all this was 12, 15 years ago.
But to be honest with you, for you to learn your trade, you need to be these doing odd hours. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I was not doing those hours and when you’re younger you can do it. I never regret putting the effort in, putting that work in, because I was moving towards something, to a goal in life.
There’s only so many hours in a day and if you want to learn then you need to put the hours in. But just have a plan, “I need to do it for X amount of time and then I’m going to take a position where I don’t need to do those hours.”
But the problem with the industry is, it’s a very tough industry. We talk about it a lot in there (the restaurant).
The problem for young people is finding an establishment where someone is likely to facilitate those hours that you can work like that, a balance. I couldn’t. Which is part of the reason why I opened my own place because I needed this.
There’s always going to be some things that I’m not happy with, but you have to look at the bigger things of what’s involved. Sleep is a really important part of all this. If I didn’t sleep properly, none of this would be happening.
To read a longer version of this article take a look at Eat Work, Sleep, Live in the October issue of the SLEEP magazine.
John Lawson is a renowned chef who started his career training with Raymond Le Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. He went on to work in Michelin star restaurants across the world and gained his own Michelin star at his restaurant in Melbourne, No.8 by John Lawson. He opened Food by John Lawson in 2017 in Leigh on Sea to share his love of good food.
Photo by Photography by Petra