Brendan Shields is leaving Blanchet House in mint condition to pursue his culinary dreams. And while his road ahead is straight and smooth, the one behind him is full of bumps and twists marked by addiction and prison time.
With a long family history of addiction behind him, Brendan had his first sip of alcohol before many even know what the substance is. “Eight years old!” Brendan remembers.
As a child, Brendan attended AA meetings with his father. He felt, however, that his attendance proved more harmful than helpful.
“I’m hearing all these stories, these terrible stories, and I can justify and say ‘I haven’t gotten there yet so I’m not that bad,’” Brendan says. But by the time he was sixteen, he could easily drink a fifth of booze in one sitting.
Brendan became addicted to methamphetamines in addition to alcohol.
While using meth, he experienced a psychotic episode and sought refuge in a stranger’s car. “I had a prior criminal history so [the police] thought that I was trying to rob the person in the car, which wasn’t the case,” Brendan says.
He absconded for four years before turning himself in to the Nevada police. While in prison for six years, Brendan became dedicated to living a sober life. He devoted his time to meditation and Bible study. As his time in prison was coming to an end, he made the decision to continue living soberly. He was released just last year, in 2018.
Brendan’s father connected him to Blanchet House. Once here, Brendan found his way around the kitchen. In a few short weeks Brendan became responsible for feeding hundreds of meals guests, six days a week.
Inspired by Brendan’s hard work ethic and calm demeanor, his fellow residents soon chose him to be the next Kitchen and Facilities Manager. “It was interesting. It was humbling to hear that the guys were appreciative…they had seen my character for the year that I had been here,” Brendan says.
The hardest part of the job, according to Brendan, is engaging with men on the path to recovery.
“Their behavior is shifting, and they’re starting to slip. [It’s hard] watching that happen when you know it’s so simple,” he says.
One of his favorite parts of the job, it would seem, is the cooking. As a child in Pomona, California, Brendan lived close to a Mexican family who were known for their chiles rellenos recipe. He made chiles rellenos for his class in eighth grade, and has been inspired by Mexican cuisine and culture since. Today, he is known for his famous chile verde soup.
At Blanchet House, Brendan was a mentor for other men in recovery. In the next few months, however, Brendan cannot wait to become a mentee. He hopes to find work cooking and plans to do stages—traineeships—around town to learn the trade from other established chefs.
Written by Lilian Vasquez with Jessica Pollard