PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One of Portland’s top chefs is open about something others often keep private — his sobriety.
Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon said his personal decision to no longer drink alcohol has never been a journey he’s had to take on all alone.
“My sobriety date is, Oct. 31, Halloween, 2013,” Rucker said. “So it kind of happened right after the Le Pigeon cookbook came out.”
At a time when Rucker was seeing a lot of success, the chef also knew one thing was not going well — his relationship with alcohol.
“I kind of could see that I was not going to be able to hold onto it much longer if I didn’t make some big changes,” Rucker said.
“I like to say I drank publicly and I got sober publicly,” he added.
Although, it’s what happened at a private event that triggered a shift.
“There was definitely a dinner party with some neighbors that I didn’t really know that well where my behavior was, ‘You’re an adult, act like one,'” he said.
The next day, Rucker’s dad took him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“I’m lucky that I have also a father that’s in recovery, too,” he said.
These days, Rucker also finds support in a group called Ben’s Friends.
“There’s winemakers, there’s baristas, there’s restaurant owners, there’s bus boys, there’s servers, cooks, and we get together, once a week, in person. And then there’s also a zoom meeting every day,” Rucker said.
“We all relate to each other, the stresses that we deal with the night before, with me overcooking a steak or the kind of things where maybe we go home, go and drink about it or something like that,” he added.
Ben’s Friends Co-founder Mickey Bakst, based in South Carolina, said Rucker helped start the Portland chapter.
Bakst called him a “relentless advocate for sobriety and for helping people in the Portland community who are struggling with addiction.”
“It’s just been awe-inspiring to watch, to be quite frank,” he said.
Ben’s Friends started with a focus on alcohol for people in the restaurant and hospitality industries. Now, it’s far beyond that.
“We’re open to anybody,” Bakst said. “If somebody finds in Ben’s Friends a community that they’re comfortable with, regardless of their issues, we’re not gonna say, ‘Don’t come, you’re not welcome.’ We welcome everybody who is struggling, and we try to help to the best of our ability.”
For Rucker, eliminating alcohol in his life didn’t have to mean getting rid of it from his restaurants.
“There’s a lot of really interesting, delicious, fun options out there of non-alcoholic drinks,” Rucker said. “And that is just a huge booming business right now.”
On his menus, you’ll find Athletic Brewing on the beer list, and Hood River-based Wilderton is also on the shelves at his restaurants.
“There’s very few brands that I choose to partner with for that reason, because I don’t wanna have to fake it,” he said.
“If you normally would build a cocktail with rum or gin or tequila as the base, now Wilderton functions as a non-alcoholic base that is distilled from 100% raw botanicals here in Portland,” said Co-CEO Brad Whiting.
Whiting’s Wilderton started up in late 2020, several months into the pandemic, offering another option in the mix of non-alcoholic choices.
“One of the positive things I’ve seen out of what’s happened in the last two years is that there’s been a lot of people getting sober,” Rucker said.
The award-winning chef is showing others that a path to sobriety and success is possible, and he says that you’re never alone in the journey.
“It’d be so hard for me if I didn’t have my family, my wife and kids,” he said. “I live for them. I’m just so impressed when I see young people making a change for the better and I’m — it makes me feel like there’s hope for the future.”
Ben’s Friends started out for people in the restaurant and hospitality industries, but it’s open to anyone who wants to find support. There’s even a national zoom meeting every morning for those who want to hop in to check it out.