When Portland-based musician Kasey Anderson got out of prison, he was eating like he was still there: Pop Tarts, no longer purchased from the commissary; a couple of Eggos thrown in a toaster for dinner; carbs, candy, and whatever he could get his hands on at the end of the day, after forgetting to eat when lunch rolled around.
Anderson is in recovery for alcohol and cocaine addiction, but he was already a year into sobriety when he went to prison. Once he got out, he found himself struggling with a challenge he hadn’t prepared for: feeding himself. “I had access to great food, but I was still very much in that style of eating the majority of my calories at the end of the day, and most of it was candy and stuff that didn’t require a lot of preparation,” he remembers. “It became this aspect of my life where I put all that impulsive behavior tied with substance use into my eating habits.”
Years later, Anderson is now a program coordinator at Portland’s chapter of the Alano Club, a nonprofit organization for people in recovery. But the Alano Club isn’t just about supporting Portlanders as they stop using drugs and alcohol; the organization offers several classes to help people, in Anderson’s words, “re-learn life” — the parts of life they were neglecting while they were using or in the throes of severe mental illness. Starting tonight, those classes will include the world of food.
Sober-chef support group Ben’s Friends has partnered with the Alano Club for a series of free cooking classes specifically designed for people in recovery, covering everything from grocery budgeting to meal planning. Every third Tuesday of the month, SE Clinton event space Cookshop will host a lineup of seriously talented chefs, all of whom are in recovery themselves: Chefs like James Beard Award winner Gabriel Rucker, Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet, and restaurateur Tommy Habetz will start each class talking through their personal histories with food and recovery, before leading a cooking tutorial and sitting down to a meal with all the students.
The chefs gets a certain amount of free reign with the actual dishes they cook, but recipes have to be applicable to the realities of life in recovery. Trinket owner Gina Helvie, who will lead a class herself, has been collaborating with Anderson to plan classes and work with chefs; she and Anderson talked specifically with the various teachers about making sure all the recipes are decently nutritious, budget-friendly, easy to cook, and actually tasty. The class members will cook the meal with the chefs, and the group will discuss recovery as they eat. In between classes, guests can take free, follow-up cooking courses through Feed the Mass, a nonprofit cooking school program at Faubion.
For Anderson, these classes are not about giving up the Pop Tarts completely, so to speak. For him, it’s about recognizing that recovery is about remembering what provides joy, health, and fulfillment in this new phase of life, at the table or otherwise. “The last thing any of us want when we enter recovery is to think there’s nothing about our current lives we can keep,” he says. “Part of these classes is about helping people understand that the focus can be on the food and the fellowship, beyond which wine pairs with which pasta. You don’t have to have alcohol with your meal to be comfortable in a social setting... At the end of each class, we’ll sit together and eat together. That union and fellowship is an important part of people’s recovery.”
The schedule of classes are listed below, held at 2627 SE Clinton Street from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m:
Tuesday, February 18 — Gabriel Rucker (Le Pigeon; sold out)
Tuesday, March 17 — Tommy Habetz (Bunk)
Tuesday, April 21 — Gina Helvie (Trinket)
Tuesday, May 19 — Gregory Gourdet (Departure)
Tuesday, June 16 — Kasey Mills (Mediterranean Exploration Company)