Upon first meeting Christopher Stanislas Blake, no one ever guessed that he was a 93-year-old US WWII veteran, a writer, a cook and a former restaurateur with 17 years of sobriety. His warmhearted and friendly manner was as sincere as it was captivating, and it was easy to form an immediate bond with him. Celebrating recovery was what Christopher was all about.
Chris was first introduced to sobriety by Father Francis P. Duffy who found Chris lost and alone one dark night on a beach in Newport, California. Father Duffy was associated with the National Council on Alcoholism and knew instantly that this man needed immediate medical attention. Chris was taken to the Detox Unit at Hoag Hospital where he met Dottie Dozel. Dottie supervised Chris’ detox and later arranged a scholarship for him at South Coast Counseling (SCC).
Jack Motley, the manager and primary counselor at SCC’s residential recovery home in Costa Mesa gave Chris a meal, a bed and an invitation to stay so that he could recover from his over 60 years of chronic alcoholism. Chris was willing and accepted the invitation. He was the first and only 75-year-old resident of SCC, which is often affectionately called Plumer Street. Chris’ sobriety date was May 5, 1996.
The residents of the house were in the process of sprucing up the place, so Chris volunteered to paint. Soon, with Chris covered in white paint, they realized they could not let him finish the work; his painting was a disaster. The question soon became, “What do we do with Chris?” The answer became evident when Plumer Street management realized that Chris was a former New Orleans’ restaurateur and a seasoned down-home cook.
For over 15 years, Chris ran the Plumer Street kitchen, which offered three meals a day for the 16 residents, except on Wednesdays when 40 or so of their alumni showed up for dinner, a meeting and a prayer.
Holidays were especially important to Chris. He did not want friends in recovery to be alone on those sometimes difficult occasions. His remedy was to host fun, sober open house buffets for Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. About 100 guests would show up for each event. What joyful and delicious times he created for those of us in the local recovery community.
Before I went on a trip to New Orleans in 2000, I was introduced to Chris by Big Tim. Big Tim was a Plumer Street Alumni who later became Chris’ sponsor. Chris immediately appointed me as his assistant. Our job was to plan a big bash — a Clean and Sober Mardi Gras complete with beads, colorful costumes, King Babies and, most of all, Chris’ authentic Louisiana buffet. The menu included catfish bites, jambalaya, red beans and rice, garlic bread and an array of Chris’ homemade desserts, featuring an authentic New Orleans bread pudding (minus the alcohol).
Off I went to New Orleans to do Chris’ bidding. I returned with items for the event and the raffle: a painting by King Napoleon of Jackson Square, Aunt Sally’s pecan pralines and Andouille sausages from Paul Prudhomme’s.
Chris felt, with my 20 years of experience in catering and his 40 years of Southern cooking, our talents could be put to good use. Chris, our friend Todd B. and I met once a week over beignets and café au lait where we planned and organized a fundraising event for the Plumer Street alumni committee. The money raised helps their residents attend recovery conventions, sober retreats and even the Hollywood Bowl. Plumer Street’s Clean and Sober Mardi Gras was such a success, it is now in its 14th year.
Chris knew the production crew at the Hollywood Bowl. Every Friday night for many years during the summer season, Chris and three of his guests were invited to enjoy the show as the crew’s guests. At almost 90 years old, generously Chris would bring coolers containing gourmet dinners for his guests, along with a buffet for the crew. Chris never missed an opportunity to give back.
For as long as I knew him, Chris was dedicated to providing sober experiences for recovering men and women who might ordinarily not have had them.
Over the many years of our friendship, I learned more and more about Chris’ life. He told me a story about a society party he and Tennessee Williams attended. Chris gave me a copy of a book he wrote about his beloved French Quarter, The Fair, Fair Ladies of Chartres Street. He introduced me to some of the cookbooks he wrote, including Easy Elegance Cookbook, Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours: Recipes from New Orleans that Louis Armstrong Loved and Cooking with and for Alcoholics.
Chris was very proud to be a US WWII veteran. He was deployed overseas by the Air Force in 1943 with the 706th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Sixth Group. Because he spoke French, he was an asset to the Brittany Campaign. In a story on tankdestroyer.net, Rob Haldeman noted that Chris was in Holland during the Battle of the Bulge and visited Bad Tolz when the war ended, where he stood “… in the bombed out window of Hitler’s hideaway in Berchtesgaden.” He received an honorable discharge as Technician Fifth Grade.
While he lived in Paris after the war, Chris attended the Sorbonne and had the honor of meeting and becoming close friends with the famous American poet Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas. He considered himself a protégé of Ms. Stein’s and wrote a play about her, which he called Lady with a Jug.
Christopher Stanislas Blake is remembered not just for his many literary and culinary contributions, but mostly for his youthful spirit, his delightful sense of humor and his many gifts to the recovery community during his 17 years of sobriety. Chris’ plays, books and cookbooks can be found in both the archives of Tulane University and at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
Chris passed away at the age of 93 on March 25, 2014. He is sorely missed by all who knew him.
In honor of Chris and his love of food and recovery, here is his recipe for Serenity Chocolate Cups, reprinted with his permission from his book, Cooking with and for Alcoholics.
Serenity Chocolate Cups
These chocolate cups are for the purists of chocolate lovers. Now with all that liquor gone, we can easily taste the chocolate.
6 oz semisweet chocolate
6 egg yolks, slightly beaten
Pinch of salt
6 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 cup cream, stiffly whipped
2 Tbsp very strong coffee
In the top of a double boiler, melt chocolate until smooth. Add egg yolks and salt. Cook for five more minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool, but do not allow chocolate to harden.
Fold in the beaten egg whites until well blended. Fill small glasses or cups with the mixture and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving, slowly fold the coffee into the whipped cream. Top each of the chocolate cups with the coffee mixture.
Kay Luckett has been in recovery since 1997. She formerly owned Memorable Occasions, a catering company in Los Angeles, where she produced and catered events for over 20 years. Her biggest thrill was catering for Julia Child. She is currently working in the recovery field and is a student at Yavapai College majoring in counseling. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the contact form below.