Cooking is what makes me come alive. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, there weren’t many around that shared my love for cooking. My neighborhood was a place that thrives on the fear of others, so you grew up learning how to hide your fear. When I was a kid, I was skin and bones because I’d pedal fast to get away from people in my neighborhood trying to get me into drugs and gangs. I would head to a park with a lagoon, where I could fish. I remember watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin from a young age, over and over again. It was probably considered a little weird, but it helped me stay away from some of the stuff that was happening in my neighborhood. Cooking has helped take me out of tough spots. I’ve always had a special love for seafood, I think it’s also because I would go fishing with my father.
My background wasn’t easy. As a kid, there were times I was homeless, and both of my parents struggled with addiction. I swore that I wouldn’t go down that path, because of what I’d experienced as a kid, but eventually found myself in recovery at the age of 30. I didn’t grow up wanting to use. I’d seen the violence and despair it caused. But when I was young, I frequently felt lonely, strange, different — partially because of the times being homeless. At seventeen, I started drinking for the first time and found that it helped me become someone else. I thought my parents must have just done it wrong.
I started working in fast-food restaurants and worked my way up to nicer places. At 17, I was accepted into the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. My daughter was born when I was 19. I began drinking in and around my work environments and was a daily drinker by age 20. But things became darker, as I was having issues with my daughter’s mother and living a double life: selling drugs, being unfaithful, and drinking to the point of periodic blackouts. An opportunity arose to move to Las Vegas. I had always believed that my problem was Chicago – the homelessness, friends dying or getting locked up — and that moving would solve the problem. I didn’t know that there was a problem within me.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I got even more caught up in the party lifestyle. My daughter’s mother left me. Vegas is the perfect place to say f*** it, and I got into using pills and worse. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t. I was so tired and burnt out, but I realized that I could stop without feeling physically awful.
After a couple of years, I moved to Los Angeles, partially to escape the Vegas scene. Again, I didn’t have community outside of the party crew. I soon got sucked into harder substances and found myself drinking unhealthy amounts again. Things got darker. My mom was found dead on January 31st, 2013, and my father died five months later.
I used more to get through the pain. At that point, the only thing that seemed okay to me was the idea of dying. I had no vision of life without alcohol. I was depressed, skin and bones. I could barely walk and put together a sentence. I was still going to work, but I could barely sign my name. Dark thoughts filled my head. “How long will it take for someone to find my body?” I was drinking by myself, on my couch, waiting to die.
Looking back, I can see that I was being selfish at the time. I had no thoughts about my daughter or my grandmother, who had lost three of her own kids by this time.
A friend that I use to party with had gotten sober around this time. When she came to check on me, she saw my living conditions and how sick and down that, I had become and invited me to a meeting — a support group for recovering addicts. She didn’t force me to go; she invited me. I didn’t want to go, but for some reason, I thought again of my daughter, so I went. I got clean for one week but then went back to using again because I was feeling better and thought I could. However, I couldn’t control my use at all, and things spiraled, particularly after I made a drunk fool of myself in front of some friends of mines and their kids.
In that very low point in time, a new friend from the support group reached out. His father had taken his own life, but he was on the recovery track and doing well. Hearing this friend’s story removed the excuse I had held onto to stay in my self-pity, from the pain of losing my parents. He urged me to get home that night so that he could take me to a meeting that following day — May 25, 2015 — and everything started to change.
My recovery process was entirely through Alcoholics Anonymous. I found a community to be fully myself in, and people to do life with. Walking through the steps helped me process through my pain, particularly around what my mother had exposed me to as a child and the grief of losing my father. I had to face the pain I had caused in my relationship with my daughter, and her mother. It wasn’t easy, but, having that strong of a community and a sponsor helped. Things have gotten restored to a place that had surprised me. I’m now close to my daughter’s mother and her new husband, and they even invited me to their wedding.
I talk to my daughter and my grandma every day, and I see now how I can be present, and of service. I’m a good dude. People want me around. They know I’m helpful, and that I’m going to be the best person I can be. It’s also great to be able to help other guys going through what I’ve gone through.
I feel blessed that I know what my passion is. There are people out there who don’t know what they’re good at. Cooking helps me meditate and get out of my head — my brain shuts down in a good way. It makes my day to see people getting excited about what I create.
In recovery, I took a job that was in a sober environment that helped me get back on my feet again. But now I’m excited to take my talents to the next level, to go back to making the food that you can see in a magazine. I’m just starting to step back into roles where I get to create food that makes me come most alive, and just accepted a new job that will enable me to do so.