Former American chef Trevis Gleason on dealing with life’s interruptions

Trevis Gleason used to work up to 18 hours a day as a chef in his native America but had to radically change his lifestyle after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

TREVIS GLEASON has a way with words and a way with food, but what strikes you most about the American former chef is his way of being.

There was a time when he thought nothing of doing double shifts, split shifts and the occasional 18-hour day, but in 2001 he had a stroke-like episode and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

He was 35 years old and his whole life changed. 

“Sometimes,” he recounts in his new book Chef Interrupted, “the simple act of getting myself from bed to bathroom for a morning pee exhausts my day’s energy supply and six more hours of anaesthesia-like sleep ensue.”

Ask him how he copes now and he’ll tell you that he’s neither a glass-half-full nor a glass-half-empty type of person, just a half-glass pragmatist. 

On any given day, he looks at that half-glass and tries to get as much from it as he possibly can.

He describes his early symptoms of MS and subsequent diagnosis with a lightness and humour that make them easy to minimise, yet this ‘damnable disease’ — as he describes it — cost him his successful career in Seattle, his marriage, and his persona as a successful chef.

“I was the typical American male. I defined myself by my job. Your job is what you do and not what you are,” he tells Feelgood.

When he realised that, he decided it was time to live his dream because, as he bluntly puts it, he didn’t know how much longer living that dream would be a physical possibility.

He moved to a small Kerry town which he refers to simply as ‘The Town’ in his engaging, witty yet inspiring memoir. 

It’s not that he’s trying to spare the locals’ feelings or disguise the “charming idiosyncrasies” of his rented cottage by not naming it, but the term suits the book’s jaunty, playful tone.

It’s a charming read, a look at ourselves through a Yank’s — his word — eyes. 

But there is much more to this book — it offers a forthright but uplifting insight into the realities of living with MS, a degenerative disease of the central nervous system that can attack all of the body’s functions.

The subtitle of the book, ‘discovering life’s second course in Ireland with multiples sclerosis’, says it all, though Gleason is not one to sugar-coat the truth.

“There is such a thing as being overly sensitive when talking about this, or other conditions like mine. I’d never use the most offensive of the debilitated lexicon, of course, but I’m not going to tiptoe around on eggshells to make sure we offend no one, either,” he says.

Though, he does offer a huge dollop of hope. He came to Ireland for just three months initially, but he succeeded in overcoming all kinds of obstacles to come here “for real” in 2012. 

He and his second wife Caryn — and their two dogs — now divide their time between Seattle and Kerry.

He has good days and bad days but says things have moved on a lot from the days when the illness was seen as hopeless — “It used to be ‘diagnose and adios’.”

He tries to help others to live life as fully as they can by charting his own battles with MS on his award-winning blog, Life with MS. 

He also writes about emerging research, drug therapies, the cost of medication, anything that might help or interest others.

He does all he can to stave off the effects of MS. That includes taking vitamin D supplements — early research indicates that it may have a role to play — and making sure that he does all he can to live life as fully as he can, while trying to give something back.

Food continues to play a big role in his life. 

He’s on the organising committee of the Dingle Food Festival (oops, The Town’s identity might just be out of the bag, but we’ll leave you guessing!).

His real food discovery, however, was learning to appreciate good, locally sourced, organic food. 

“I used to bend ingredients to my will but now I think a chef’s job is to take good ingredients and do as little as possible to muck them up.”

Chef Interrupted: Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis by Trevis Gleason is published by The Collins Press, €12.99.


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