Chef Timothy Tucker, culinary arts manager at The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Boston, Mass., talks about his first job for the Army in Kentucky, summers at Three Mile Island Camp in New Hampshire, and how every successful chef is also a great teacher.
In 2005, eight years after graduating from Sullivan University’s culinary arts program, I had two future career choices; work as the private chef for the Texas Roadhouse restaurants CEO, or as a cook for the Center of Hope Meal Service, a homeless shelter run by The Salvation Army in Louisville, Ky. I chose the Army, and began serving low–income families at the shelter. I learned how to work for a nonprofit, and as a result, became a better chef. I also founded the shelter’s Culinary Training Program, designed to give people a chance to get out of poverty and begin a career in the kitchen. Sullivan University offered a full scholarship to Jackson, our training program’s “Student of the Year.” After he graduated from Sullivan, Jackson came back to work for the Culinary Training Program as its director.
During the summer months, I’m an executive chef at Three Mile Island Camp in New Hampshire. A team of us serve 120 people, 3 meals a day throughout the summer months. We connect with local organic farmers and food producers for each of these all–natural, “scratch–made” meals. I feel blessed that the Army allows me time to pursue this passion. I return in the fall refreshed and ready for the next group of culinary students at the Kroc Center.
Early in my career, I fell in love with Texas–styled BBQ cooking; food that you prepare with pure, clean heat. I also love western cuisine, and any food that can fit inside a taco shell. But professionally, it’s never about what I like to eat or even cook. The focus is always on the people I’m serving, be they my family, my students, or my community.
I received an invitation to visit the Boston Kroc Center before it even opened. The Army wanted to bring to the Kroc what we were doing in Louisville. I remember being in awe of the Kroc Center project. At the time, the Louisville Corps was a small building; I had never seen an Army corps like the Kroc Center. While it was still under construction, we walked through it as I answered questions about what a successful culinary arts program would require. I held nothing back. When I received an offer to run the culinary program there, it was like getting a dream job. The Salvation Army continues to support culinary arts programs because they see them as I see them—as an art form that transforms lives.
Every chef is a teacher. Go into any restaurant, and you’ll see signature meals on the menu. Although these meals are designed in a certain style by the chef, the only way they’re served correctly 300 times a day is by having the chef go over every ingredient with the staff to make sure that the meal tastes the same as it did yesterday. To run any successful department, whether in the food business or somewhere else, you have to guide the staff in doing the best work that they can do.
interview by Hugo Bravo