How Vegan Gelato Helped Me Stay Sober
All photos courtesy of Millie's

FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Food

How Vegan Gelato Helped Me Stay Sober

I always felt this sense of emptiness on the inside and knew that, deep down, I would probably die if I didn't do something about it, because I was going down a bad path.
24.2.16

This post was originally published on MUNCHIES.

I've been cooking for 35 years. It is my life.

I opened Sbicca in 1998. We were successful right away. We won awards with the restaurant and I won local awards individually as a chef. Nonetheless, there is a side to this success story that runs parallel with all of this: I was drinking a lot. I started to hit rock bottom emotionally, spiritually, and physically while I was winning all those awards.

Annons

Then my vegan gelato came into my life.

I just couldn't handle all of the pressure, so drinking was my escape. I was miserable. I had all these wonderful accolades, a nice house, a nice car, and a nice husband—yet I was not happy. We celebrated a lot, but I was trying to fill a hole that just couldn't be filled with drugs or alcohol. It got to a point where I would rather stay at work than go home, just so I could drink more. It went full-blown quickly after that. I needed help.

I always felt this sense of emptiness on the inside and knew that, deep down, I would probably die if I didn't do something about it, because I was going down a bad path. Something had to change, so I decided to sell my restaurant and leave the restaurant business altogether in 2011.

READ: We Need to Talk About Mental Health in the Kitchen

I was lost after this. I split up with my husband, and shortly after that I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. This made me even more depressed. A friend told me about this place out in Lemon Grove, California called Optimum Health Institute. I went there for a week and felt as good as I could ever remember feeling. They pushed a raw vegan diet, and while it was amazing, it was quite extreme, since no cooking is involved.

I'm a cook, after all. Without cooking, I didn't know who I was anymore.

For a chef, the raw food diet is unknown territory. It took some getting used to, but I had good reason to get into this diet because I felt the difference when I ate like this with my autoimmune disease. However, since I no longer ate meat, I had to do some soul-searching. My mouth still waters every time I see a steak. I am not against meat-eating, but I just can't [do it myself] because of my health.

Annons

I hope my story will inspire other people out there to seek help, especially chefs. Get over yourself and get help.

So I started to goof around in the kitchen with my Cuisinart. What popped for me was ice cream. I would dream up recipes of how I could recreate the rich flavors that I used to love in a plant-based way. I came up with an ice cream recipe that people really started to enjoy. I started taking it to local farmer's markets, and people really started to like it there, too. Then I got an investor, got a spot at Whole Foods, and now I'm on my way to building a gelato empire.

For me, it's not even about the taste of the ice cream. I taste it and do love it, but what I love the most is watching other people enjoy it. It's more about the work involved in making it. This is what motivated me throughout this stage of my life. I can safely say that I'm over alcohol. I used to cook with a lot of wine and liquor, but it is not a trigger for me at all anymore. I am grateful.

READ: Kombucha and Alcoholism Don't Mix

I hope my story will inspire other people out there to seek help, especially chefs. Get over yourself and get help. You don't know everything, and you cannot control everything around you in life. That's what I tried to do, and I kept failing and failing and drinking more and drinking more.

I look at where I am today and it makes me really happy. I couldn't have done any of this without me being sober.

As told to Javier Cabral


Susan Sbicca is the former co-owner and executive chef of the award-winning Sbicca, in Del Mar, CA and the Meritage Restaurant & Bar in Encinitas, CA. She is the founder of Millie's Gelato.