I grew up in Springfield, Illinois but as soon as I was able I was outta there and into culinary school at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been back and forth to Louisville for much of the last twenty years so even though it’s not my birthplace, I definitely consider it home. After graduating from Sullivan, I went on to work as a PM line cook at two upscale restaurants: The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, where I was mentored by Chef Dean Fearing; and The Painted Table in Seattle, where I worked under Chef Tim Kelley.
The restaurant work was followed by a brief stint as a research and development chef for a frozen-food manufacturer in Louisville where I got to learn first-hand all about the chemicals and additives that go into processed foods. The pay was great but the work was soul crushing and made me realize how far I’d strayed from my initial passion to cook healthy food from fresh ingredients.
After I learned how food might lead to ill health, I decided I didn’t want any part of it. And went to Fox Hollow to learn how to heal
So, I left the cushy, stable world of the “culinary industrial complex” and took a job as the head chef at Fox Hollow, a natural medicine facility on an organic farm just outside of Louisville. There, I was able to gain great experience in growing, farming and cooking organically and I began to develop a culinary philosophy that would go on to govern the next ten years of my life and work as a chef.
In 2005, I took a job as Executive Chef at the Salvation Army’s Center of Hope Meal Service, where I found myself cooking for 400 low-income men, women and families, each week. It was obvious to me from the get-go that this service was a necessity for the community but I felt like more could be done. When my boss, formerly homeless himself, told me about a kitchen skills training program that had been offered by the Salvation Army in Los Angeles, I was inspired to create my own Culinary Training Program at the Center of Hope. I designed this 10-week course to help people get out from below the poverty level and into a culinary career.
After five years at the Salvation Army in Louisville, I was invited to develop and run a similar program at the Miami Culinary Institute at Miami-Dade College. The fourth class at MDC will graduate in a few weeks and immediately after, I’ll be rejoining the ranks of the Salvation Army full-time as we implement the CTP in their brand new KROC Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
In addition to creating the CTP, I’ve also spent the last three summers working as the head chef on Three Mile Island, an Appalachian Mountain Camp in Meredith, New Hampshire. On the island, I’ve made it a priority to connect with and support local food producers and farmers; to bring organic farming and cooking practices directly to the island and to provide three scratch-made squares a day, seven days a week to the island’s many guests.
In 2007, I was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Community Service Award by Sullivan University for my efforts to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Through it all, I’ve stayed true to the idea of food as a healing modality. Yes, food should taste good and when you’re working with great ingredients and cooking with love, it always does.