Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gen Next: Timothy Tucker

After graduating from the Sullivan University culinary program in 1998, Timothy Tucker worked at upscale restaurants across the country. He was on a quick path to "Top Chef" status.

But in 2005, he veered off onto a different path when he took a job at the Salvation Army's Center of Hope. He would spend the next five years serving meals to the homeless and training at-risk students how to run a kitchen. During his tenure, the program drew positive press from ABC News, CNN and USA Today.

Last year, Tucker, 35, was selected last year by Slow Food USA to attend their conference in Torino, Italy. Tucker and his colleagues exchanged ideas about sustainability, green practices, school system nutrition, rooftop gardens – or, as Tucker sums it up, “all that good stuff.”

Tucker had planned to be gone for a month, but when the Salvation Army couldn’t give him the time off, he left the Center of Hope and ended up spending months traveling throughout Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

“I became a couch surfer, cooking for parties in exchange for a place to sleep each night,” he said.

In Viterbo, an hour north of Rome, he harvested olive oil and apprenticed with a local chef who made everything from scratch, from bread to liquor. “It was great,” Tucker said, “I didn’t get paid but I got to stay in paradise for free.”

After trying to learn the cuisine as much as he could in Italy and Spain, Tucker found himself in Amsterdam. There, he found many connections between the Dutch and ours, and marveled at their love for fast food – “French fries, waffles, big burgers, they love it all. It’s the opposite of the food pride people have in Italy, where everyone has a super love for making it themselves, and take serious pride in their food.”

Back home in Louisville, Tucker is working on a book about the way food can change lives and is working with an agent to find a publisher. “It’s about inspiration," he said, "why it’s important to get good food, getting good food in institutions and to stop saying that we can’t do it."

While at the Center of Hope, Tucker said he helped dozens of people land jobs or scholarships in the culinary field. One of them, he said, landed a full ride to study at Sullivan.

He's now looking for the next project that blends his skills.

“I’ve been having a renewal of my love for food. It is my passion, and I want to continue to work in food activism.”

c. 2011 Velocity Weekly

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