by Monty Peeler
When I was 19 years old, I suffered a horrific accident while working in a restaurant and cooking clam fettuccine alfredo. Without proper training and eager to demonstrate a strong work ethic and passion for cooking, I lifted a 40-quart pot of boiling water from the stove and attempted to empty it into a drain some 15 feet away. It only took a few minutes for disaster to strike. I slipped on the floor. I was doused with scalding hot water.
After the executive chef rescued and rushed me to the emergency room, the doctors said I was severely injured with third degree burns. I was immediately sedated with morphine and transferred to the burn center in Berkeley, Calif. My family and friends gathered and prayed over me.
I stayed in the burn center for over a month and miraculously pulled through. I spent a lot of time in the hospital and underwent months of medical treatment as a result of the pain, fatigue and itching during recovery and rehabilitation.
Part of the recommended recovery was smoking pot, unorthodox as it may seem to some, it lessened the pain and created an appetite. After surviving such a horrific event, I have overcome incredible obstacles in my life.
I was born and raised in Berkeley with three siblings in a single parent home. I was a momma’s boy and a normal kid, riding my bike and hanging out with friends. At age 11, I started acting out and went to live with my father, a successful painting contractor, who was stern and taught me about finances.
Growing up, I had a love for cooking. I would watch my mom and aunties cook and was amazed by the smells, flavors, tastes and textures of the food. My mom would bake on holidays. After a while they let me do some prep work and I discovered I had a knack for cooking.
My earliest memory at age eight is preparing a meal for my siblings. I climbed on a chair and made some French fries. As I grew older, instead of eating junk food since my mom was working late, I would prepare full course meals on the stovetop when most kids my age were making sandwiches or using the microwave.
I learned, “If you change nothing, then nothing will change.”
The passion for cooking did not keep me from jail, prison or drugs. I started smoking pot and drinking wine in my early teens, and by the time I turned 18, I was doing shots of liquor and lines of cocaine at the club; years later, that led me to snorting heroin. I, like many others, became addicted.
My addiction led to multiple arrests and eventually incarceration for money producing crimes like robbery by trickeration and theft by deception. I went through the revolving door of the criminal justice system for about 10 years. My first incarceration was in Savannah, Ga.
Once released from prison, I went back to my old behaviors, and old friends. My second incarceration, a five-year stint with the Texas Department of Corrections. And the last prison sentence was served in Texas as a result of a parole violation. Once I was finally released, a condition of my parole was staying employed, so I ventured back to what I knew – cooking.
Texas changed my life not just because I was incarcerated, but after being released a girlfriend introduced me to Delvin Wilson, who became a mentor and took me under his wing and taught me not just how to cook, but also the business of cooking. He taught me how to build a menu, then build a kitchen around that menu, and a business around that kitchen.
I worked from sun up to sun down, six days a week. That work led to an internship at a renowned country club in Amarillo, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle. Over the years, I trained at the Cooking Academy of Culinary Arts, and cooked in 5-star restaurants, country clubs, fast food joints and prison kitchens. I trained with top chefs in roles ranging from line cook to sou chef. Each experience, position and location brought forth a different skill set and lesson learned.
Being formerly incarcerated and addicted to drugs, I have endured stares, questions and judgments all of my life. Once upon a time, these differences had made it difficult for me to thrive. Now, not so much. For years, I didn’t like to look in the mirror or search the depths of my soul.
It feels good to have people want to see you win and want to see you happy and who are rooting for you.
At age 40, life came full circle from burn victim, formerly incarcerated and heroin user. The transformative process included complete behavior modification, and abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I have changed a lot of things; my inner person, thought patterns and how I perceived life. I learned, “If you change nothing, then nothing will change.”
I have been clean and sober since August 2003. I went to Walden House in San Francisco and was introduced to a peer support group of African-American men and women affiliated with a community-based organization, Positive Directions Equals Change. I began placing greater emphasis on the internal work needed to make me a better human being.
This is where I began to experience the uncomfortable change of self-reflection. No longer afraid to share my feelings and emotions, I’m crying out some of that dirt, the garbage thoughts and self-hatred that was deeply rooted and embedded within my thought pattern and soul.
It’s hard to do everything on your own. You need a community of people behind you. My main goal is just to continue staying sober, to continue to see what life has to offer me. I know that Positive Directions Equals Change has taken me further in life to places I never thought were possible. They showed me how to change the trajectory of my life.
Their teachings on the core skill set – learning to humble oneself, accepting feedback, self-reflection, listening, accountability, responsibility, rejecting arrogance and exercising a growth mindset – are integral to my sobriety. It feels good to have people want to see you win and want to see you happy and who are rooting for you. Many thanks to Steve Clark, Lee Boone, Cregg Johnson, Cedric Akbar and the entire Positive Directions family.
Today I am a better man, father, business leader and friend. It took me quite a while to realize what gives you inner peace and allows you to receive blessings; and that is helping another suffering addict, showing love, concern, passion and empathy.
Remember, it is not all about you! When it comes to gratitude, everything starts with sobriety. Because if you do not have sobriety, you’re going to lose everything you put in front of it, so my sobriety is right up there. I’m grateful to be alive. And that gives me the possibility to do some amazing things.
Now like those competitive cooking shows where chefs work their magic under pressure, whether that’s limited ingredients, a time limit or a deranged host, I’m constantly challenging myself to master my culinary masterpieces, offering high-quality delicious meals using local and organic ingredients.
Please check out Monty’s Catering website montypecatering.com. Send an email email@example.com or call 510-816-7369.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Positive Directions Equals Change, a community-based organization in the Bayview, offers classes and support groups each day of the week. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at 415-401-0199 or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. The schedule is pictures and all are welcome.