HOLYOKE — Chris Bland works daily to balance being in recovery with the challenges of a busy life that includes expanding his Sober Chef catering business.
The 32-year-old Springfield resident, who is in long-term recovery, also makes time for acts of kindness toward others, which have included delivering meals to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.
He was honored this month for his community spirit and commitment to recovery by MiraVista Behavioral Health Center and the organization’s adMIRAtion award.
“Chris represents all things that are possible for someone who has started their recovery journey,” said Kimberley Lee, MiraVista’s chief of Creative Strategy and Development. “He sought and received the help he needed, he has continued to be engaged with supports that support him, and he has opened a successful business. For his commitment to himself, in celebration of his successful business and in light of the many mouths he has fed of those in need, we are presenting Chris with MiraVista’s adMIRAtion award.”
The behavioral-health center, which treats mental- and behavioral-health conditions in adolescents and adults, created the award to honor the engagement of time and effort that benefits others without personal reward to the giver except for the satisfaction of the act.
“Being kind is the way I live my life,” said Bland, who is accepting the award with his own giveback that day: lunch for individuals in recovery in MiraVista’s Intensive Outpatient Program, during which he will share his own recovery story and personal journey.
“I will deliver a nice chicken piccata with salad and rolls and share what has driven my own recovery, which is about taking that first step to make yourself better,” Bland said. “Once I was able to admit and understand that I had a substance-use problem, I wanted something better for myself. You have got to keep going with recovery because the disease never stops attacking. If you are not equipped and armed with all the facts to protect yourself, the disease will get you every time.”
Bland said he had been “living a certain way for a long time” until, at age 29, he hit rock bottom on Sept. 19, 2019.
“That’s my sobriety date,” said Bland who, with the support of family, friends, and his Christian faith, went through detox, a rehabilitation program, and then seven months at a sober house, where he applied what he had learned in rehab about the disease of addiction, himself, and how simple rituals like making one’s bed can “set a path for success for the day.”
His ongoing supports include a therapist and attendance at group meetings, and relaxation means such activities as exercising, walking in nature while listening to music, and bowling.
“The journey of recovery is forever changing, and I continue to read and learn about the disease of addiction and how it can overtake the mind,” Bland said. “There are a lot of key components to what and who I am today, and I try to utilize them all.”
Bland has had ongoing employment that helped support his recovery, and his full-time job in catering in recent years has helped him build his side business.
Depending on the client, he uses his backyard barbecue setup as well as ghost kitchens to prepare and deliver orders off his menu, including such offerings as pesto-roasted chicken, bourbon-glazed steak tips that Bland describes as a “fan favorite,” and grilled balsamic glazed portobello mushrooms, as well as an assortment of sandwiches.
“I got my first job as a teenager washing dishes at the former Mel’s Restaurant, and that is where my love for cooking began,” he said. “I worked other places, too, and eventually ended up as a line cook and found that I was pretty good at it.”
He decided on the name Sober Chef for his catering business when he realized early in his recovery that the name fit.
“When I first posted one of my catering menus online, someone commented, ‘is the chef sober?” Bland said. “And that reinforced the identity feeling of ‘I’m sober and a chef’ I discovered when I named it. Me becoming sober three years ago brought a lot of great things that I could not have imagined, and I am grateful.”
The death by suicide in 2018 of famed American chef Anthony Bourdain put the spotlight on an industry where long hours, built-in pressures, and ways to release stress can become triggers for substance use, something Bland said he came to realize.
“Self-care is so important, and I try to monitor what I am doing and how much I am doing as I work a first shift, and then I am out shopping and taking orders for my business, and I have to make sure I take time for myself,” Bland said. “My focus is building up Sober Chef catering now, but long-term, I hope to open a temp Sober Chef agency where I can help chefs with addiction issues get jobs but also have access to alcohol- and substance-use counseling. Business has no emotion, but business deals with people, and as people, we need to look out for each other.”