Springfield native Timothy Tucker has worked as a chef in some of the best restaurants in the country. But he’s chosen a job at a homeless shelter, where he teaches culinary skills to people seeking employment.

 

Springfield native Timothy Tucker has worked as a chef in some of the best restaurants in the country. But he’s chosen a job at a homeless shelter, where he teaches culinary skills to people seeking employment.

“I’m on a mission of healthy cooking and healing people’s bodies with food. That’s how I cook, and that’s how I teach,” said Tucker, 33, chef and kitchen director at Center of Hope, a Salvation Army shelter in downtown Louisville, Ky., that serves 400 breakfasts and dinners a day.

Tucker’s family moved from Springfield to Sherman when he was 5. While attending Williamsville High School, he enrolled in the Capital Area Career Center’s culinary arts program and spent part of his school day there learning to cook.

“We cooked all the time together,” said his mother, Martha Tucker, a beautician who owns the Magic Comb beauty shop in Springfield. “For homecoming, he cooked for all the kids.”

During high school, Tucker spent more than a year working at Gumbo Ya-Ya’s, a now-defunct Louisiana-cuisine dining spot at the top of the downtown Hilton.

His interest in the culinary arts was fueled by the occasional meals he would scavenge for himself.

“You can only eat so much Dinty Moore beef stew before you want something else,” he said.

Tucker went on to Lincoln Land Community College, where he earned a degree in hospitality management, and then to Sullivan University in Louisville, where he got a degree in culinary arts. He worked a couple of years at Mansion on Turtle Creek, a five-star restaurant in Dallas, and then at the Painted Table, a four-star hotel bistro in Seattle.

But he wanted to return to Louisville, so he took a job there as research and development chef for a frozen-food manufacturer.

“I would make small-batch recipes that would be turned into giant batches. The job changed my life. I learned about all the chemicals in frozen food and realized the importance of healthy cooking. My next job was cooking on an organic farm with a natural-medicine facility,” he said.

Four years ago, he started at the Salvation Army shelter with the mission of healing bodies and teaching vocational skills.

“All of the food is made from scratch. It’s free of additives, hydrogenated oil, fructose. We’re not opening up boxes,” he said. In the summer, the center has two large gardens that produce more than 15 types of herbs, plus salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, melons, potatoes, Swiss chard, spinach and other menu ingredients.

Tucker and the center director came up with a job-training program for people who want to work in the food-service industry. The 10-week program — 15 hours a week — has students learning safety and sanitation, knife skills, soups, sauces, stocks, meats and more. To put the classroom lessons into practice, the class caters events throughout the Louisville area.

Graduates of the program have gotten jobs at restaurants, bakeries, workplace cafeterias and after-school food programs.

Tucker has a publisher for a book he’s writing, “Healing From the Garden of Hope,” about his own life and how food can change lives.

The next time he returns to Springfield, he’d like to eat a horseshoe.

“Nobody else does the horseshoe but Springfield,” Tucker said. “It’s funny, looking back. It’s not the healthiest thing, but it’s really fun.”

Kathryn Rem can be reached at (217) 788-1520 or kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.