A couple of weeks into her outpatient treatment for alcoholism, Liz Scott suddenly realized she would face a daunting task in avoiding the sights and smells associated with her drug of choice as she moved forward. As a gourmet chef, Scott would always find herself in surroundings where an open bottle was within arm's reach.
“My second or third week sober, I had to do a catering event that I couldn't get out of,” Scott recalls. “I had to prepare a dish with vodka. I just said to myself, ‘Don't look at it. Don't taste it. Just get it done and get it out.’”
These experiences more than 10 years ago, coupled with what she saw as a puzzling lack of input from her treatment professionals about her nutritional needs in recovery, convinced Scott to examine more closely the links between alcohol and fine food in her profession, and in society.
She learned some compelling facts. For one, a National Council on Alcoholism, and Drug Dependence (NCADD) survey had shown that alcohol dependence and abuse were more highly prevalent in the food preparation industry than in nearly every other profession. Also, while many believe alcohol used in recipes burns off in the cooking process, federal government research actually has shown that depending on the alcohol type and the cooking method used, anywhere from 5 to 85% of the alcohol used in recipes remains in the dish after cooking.
Clearly there was much room for education for both professionals and home cooks, and Scott has helped fill that information need in recent years with several well-received cookbooks, including Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Advice for a Lifetime of Sobriety and Sober Celebrations: Lively Entertaining Without the Spirits.
“I specialize in sober parties and sober weddings,” says Scott, 52, with the events having some appeal both for individuals in recovery and those who simply don't want to serve alcohol. “These events are not just a matter of removing alcohol; if you're going to take it away, you have to put something back in.”
With her detailed knowledge of flavors, Scott is able to prepare food and drinks that aren't a pale imitator of a popular favorite that uses alcohol, but often improve on the recipe on which they were modeled.
“When you're making Cherries Jubilee, which uses Kirsch liqueur, you can't just pour cherry juice from a bottle instead,” she says. But if you examine the flavor profile of the liqueur, you can employ various items such as teas and syrups to duplicate the taste and texture.
“Teas have the same tannic quality as wine, and there are so many great syrups now from the people who make them for coffee bars,” Scott says.
For an alcohol-free wedding, Scott will take extra care to pair interesting drinks with each course of the meal. Even the concept of an “open bar” can be preserved at such events, using a little creativity.
In general, people in recovery and those who have other reasons for not using alcohol can achieve a great deal in cooking by going to the source of the flavor in various alcoholic beverages (i.e., the juniper berry for gin, the almond for amaretto liqueur) and substituting accordingly, she explains.
“Along the way I've discovered that there are a lot of people out there with other reasons for not drinking,” she says. “Some reasons may be medical, some may be religious, and some people just don't want to serve alcohol.”
Treatment community's interest
Scott sees some positive signs in today's addiction community's level of interest in nutritional issues and their impact on illness and recovery. In one of her more recent experiences with a treatment program, she conducted a cooking demonstration for alumni at Hazelden Springbrook in Oregon. Scott resides in New Jersey.
“Hazelden seems really to have embraced this subject,” she says. Scott's Web site (http://www.sober-celebrations.com) includes a testimonial from Hazelden's executive chef.
It is a far cry from how she read the situation about a decade ago in most treatment organizations. “Anytime I asked what the nutritional guidelines were when I was in treatment, I got no response,” Scott recalls. “The view tended to be, ‘Eat whatever you want, don't drink, and go to meetings.’”
Now professionals are beginning to realize that proper nutrition is crucial to recovery from any disease, Scott says. For alcoholics, “There are definitely some choices you can make to reduce cravings.” Baby steps are often required. “Instead of having those 12 Snickers bars, maybe you can have two, and also have some yogurt and some oatmeal,” Scott says.
Scott's books are receiving much acclaim outside the recovery community. Sober Celebrations last year was honored with the National Health Information Silver Award for consumer health information. Scott's latest work is Zero Proof Cocktails: Alcohol-Free Beverages for All Occasions.
“I've discovered my love of writing cookbooks,” Scott says. “But it's also important for me to still be a representative in the recovery world. I speak at rallies and walks. It's the very least that I owe.”
Addiction Professional 2009 July-August;7(4):56