Deciding to pursue a professional career is always hard. It’s even harder when you’re in your 50s and have worked in the same field for over 20 years. But for Tommie Wright, this is just the start to a new career path that will take him far. This is his story and how the Tarrant Area Food Bank Community Kitchen program is helping him achieve his goals.
For Tommie, this isn’t the first time he has had to start over. Almost 24 years ago, Tommie left his life in Chicago behind. He knew he didn’t want to continue to keep making wrong choices and wanted a different lifestyle for himself.
“In Chicago I was heading down in the wrong path. I really thought that there wasn’t anything to do but gang bang. I didn’t want to do that, but I was starting to head down that path.”
Fortunately, Tommie’s family was there for him. His sister invited him to visit her in Texas in an effort to help him get out of Chicago. Although Tommie wasn’t initially fond of Texas, after returning to Chicago and realizing his situation, he reconsidered and four months later was on his way back to Texas.
When Tommie came to Texas, he didn’t have much. “I came here on a Greyhound bus with 20 dollars in my pocket,” he said. But he was able to persevere. He obtained his nursing license and became a Progressive Care Unit (PCU) nurse technician. He worked in cardiac units for 22 years.
Although Tommie loved his job, he was tired from the long, heavy hours of work. He explained that his “mental state and emotional state was rough.” And when a patient passed away under his care, Tommie had a hard time dealing with his emotions. He recalled that memory and explained that “as a nurse you’re not supposed to get close to a patient, but it’s hard not to when you see them every day and you talk with them. You build a connection.”
This was a turning point in Tommie’s life. After many years in the medical field, he was going through burnout and work stress that hindered his ability to enjoy his job. So he decided to pursue a different path that would bring him joy: cooking.
Tommie tried multiple cooking programs, but all were too expensive to keep pursuing. He soon began to feel doubtful of continuing his culinary education. However one day while grocery shopping, Tommie ran in to Chef D, production chef of Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Community Kitchen. After learning about the Community Kitchen program, he applied and was accepted shortly afterward.
Tommie has learned a lot from the chefs at Tarrant Area Food Bank—from boiling eggs and cutting a whole chicken to the presentation of a completed meal.
“I came to class and found that I’ve been boiling an egg all wrong. It’s so simple but in class there’s a whole technique to it. [It’s] things like that, that I can learn each and every day to better myself, my career and my skill. It keeps me going—learning new techniques and dishes and learning how to plate dishes. There’s an art to everything we do in the kitchen.” All these lessons and new materials keep him motivated to become a better cook and one day a chef.
In the Community Kitchen program, students not only learn culinary skills, but also life skills that will help them in the culinary world. A Chinese proverb often referred to in Community Kitchen states, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Through the program students are taught how to “fish” by learning practical and transferable skills that have the power to change their lives.
For Tommie, this has meant learning how to be more humble in this new field and how to take criticism. It’s something he explained is hard to do at his age with much younger chefs by his side who rank above him.
“I’m learning to be able to take criticism and humble myself—understanding and knowing it’s part of the process and receiving it in a good way and not in a bad way. At my age it’s hard to do, but still I’m getting there and it’s a process.”
Tommie will soon be a graduate of Community Kitchen Class 39 and will be on his way to a new career path. He shared that this career path has similarities to his old one. For him, it shows that his true calling in life is to serve others.
“My calling is to serve others. I served people in the medical field for 22 years and now I’m serving people again—just in a different way.”
Plans for the Future
Tommie’s goal for the future is to open a Chicago-style food truck and name it Chi-Town Cuisine. He knows that it will take time and hopes to learn as much as possible before diving into a business.
Tommie has big dreams for his future. “You just don’t know, you might even see me on TV,” he said. For him this is just the beginning.
By Karen Vega
Communications Intern, Tarrant Area Food Bank