Jan. 18, 2023

Terence Tomlin's Road to Recovery After a Stroke, and Launching a Line of Ice Creams

Terence Tomlin's Road to Recovery After a Stroke, and Launching a Line of Ice Creams

This week I speak with chef Terence Tomlin for the second time. In 2017, Terence suffered two strokes while working at his restaurant, leaving the right side of his body paralyzed. Despite this setback, Terence has been able to regain much of his strength and has even gone on to compete in Baltimore's Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, and winning the seafood competition at The Maryland Foodie Fest.

Terence has spent the last few years hosting both private and public dinner parties. Now, he's tackling ice cream. We discuss Terence's road to recovery, competing in cooking competitions, and his big plans to build an ice cream business that gives back to disabled people in the community. Don't miss out on this inspiring episode, and make sure to check out Terence's social media channels for more culinary inspiration.

Terence's  Instagram
Help Terence fund the new ice cream business
Terence's YouTube


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Chris Spear:

It was a Sunday in 2017. Chef Terrance Tomlin was working brunch service at the restaurant just like he'd done a million times before. A day that would normally be busy, yet unremarkable. But that was the day the Terran suffered two strokes during service, and everything would change. I'm your host, Chris spear. And this is Chefs Without Restaurants, the show where I speak with culinary entrepreneurs and people working in the food and beverage industry outside of a traditional restaurant setting. So if you've been a longtime listener to the podcast, you might think this is a re airing I had Terrence on the show in early 2020. In fact, it might have been my first remote show. Back then I was calling them the COVID Zoom sessions, recording them in my garage and audio was let's just say not up to par. But this isn't a re airing, it's a new episode. Towards the end of last year, Terrence DM me on Instagram basically saying that he was done with cooking and was going to move into a more of a content creation role. So I was a little surprised last week when I saw him announced on Instagram that he was starting an ice cream company. Intrigued I sent him a DM asking to get a little more info. And after we talked about it, I decided I want to have him back on the show. Terrence is going to talk about it on the show. But to give you a brief overview. After his stroke, he was left partially paralyzed. Five years later, he still doesn't have full function over his right side, which is his dominant side. He's not able to hold a knife in his right hand, and he's still not able to drive. But parents has come a long way and gone on to do some amazing things, one of which was winning the seafood competition at the Maryland foodie fest. He spent the past few years working as a personal chef, but he's always had a love of ice cream. Ice cream was a big part of the personal chef dinners he's done over the years. Now he's looking to ramp up production and begin sales. If you go to his Instagram, you can find more info about it. And right now he's crowdsourcing funds to help get it off the ground. As part of his business model, he plans on giving proceeds back to disabled people in the community. I know this episode comes on the heels of last week's episode with Christina perello, where we talked about her overcoming a diagnosis of terminal cancer. I don't want to be too heavy handed here. But maybe this is the year we all take our health and wellness more seriously, unless you already have and then that's great. And before I leave you today, I want to talk about a couple things that I love. I usually have a sponsor message here. But I just wanted to quickly rattle off some of the things that I've been using both at my house and for my business. These aren't paid sponsors just things I really love and want to give a shout out to. Like many chefs, I'm a huge fan of oil and vinegar. I'm sure many of you heard my recent podcast with Dahveed from cordeaux olive oil. I just got some of their oils including their use of citrus oil. Last night, I roasted some broccoli and gave just a little spritz Wow took it to the next level and my kids ate it so big when they're in while I probably have 20 kinds of vinegar in my pantry. I'm really digging the ones from lindera Farms. I'm especially fond to their garden or vinegar and heirloom pepper vinegar, but you can't really go wrong with anything that Daniel is making over there. I'm sure you're tired of me talking about tacos, but I'm banging out some kind of masa product every week. And that means not only using mas en does masa harina products, but pressing out the tortillas on their dunya Rosa tortilla press and then throwing them on the baking steel griddle. Once again, none of these are paid sponsors, I just want to show some love. And if you really enjoy the show and want to do something nice, I would love for you to leave a rating and review for the podcast. I know that not all platforms offer a rating and review option. But if they do, I'd really appreciate it. And the best thing you can really do is share this podcast with your friends. Just let them know about the show post about on social media. I'd love that. So that's it. I hope you enjoy this episode and have a great week. Hey Terrance, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming back. Thank you so much for having me. It's good to see you. It's been we're just saying almost three years. I think you were my first remote podcast after after COVID. Right. Almost three years. Wow. Well, I definitely want to find out what's been happening with you since then, for our listeners, I don't want to cover all the same stuff. But I think obviously your background and history is pertinent. I guess the most important thing is like talking about maybe the jumping point from the stroke, right like you been a chef for how long were you a chef previous to your stroke.

Terence Tomlin:

I've been cooking for 33 years.But I was

Chris Spear:

And then in 2017 You You suffered a stroke while cooking professionally for about 15 you were working. So I'd love to hear a little bit about that. If you don't mind just kind of recap.

Terence Tomlin:

So 1126 17 The restaurant that I was working for we are out for best brunch in the city. And the next thing I know that was on the Sunday next thing I know it wasit was ThursdayandI was completely paralyzed. But then my left side came back. My right side worked, and my right side is my dominant side. And this happened while you were at work. Yeah. So do you have any recollection of the rest of that day, I don't remember anything at all. It was like, sometimes I'm trying to think back into my mind and try to remember. But that does give me a headache. And I've talked to other stroke victims. And they've kind of said the same thing, because when they hit you to hit you, but I try to find the beauty and orderliness and it is one of the most humbling experiences. Because I get to look at the world from a different place, I get to look at the world for my handicap person's place, and how they will feel simple things like you know, Hey, you want to know, you know, let's take a drive. You know, my, my life isn't about taking the drive and driven the car five years. So mine is Okay, gotta call an Uber or Lyft. And got it costed out and got to piece it out and stuff like that. The only thing that's been able to save me and keep me sane is my love and creases and food. So how long was it before you start? Like before you started getting back into cooking, right? So your dominant side, you're paralyzed? Can you talk a little bit about your rehab and what that process was like? Well, I was, I was married.


And my ex wife took off during the rehab process. Yes, she left me in November, which would have made five years that we were married and and would have made one year anniversary for the surf. So being left alone to my own, kind of be left alone to my own demise. Kind of put a fire underneath me to say, You know what? You're by yourself. You got to figure something out. And I started experimenting, making dishes. Hold up. Was there. Was there a period of depression there, though? Because it seems like I mean, I don't know how to recover. You've already got this life changing thing. Now. Your wife's left you in the midst of it. There must have been some period where like, you weren't feeling life? Yeah, there was but I did it while I was cooking. It was the therapy for me. But the thing that pulled me out of the depression was winning the Maryland foodie fest. The seafood competition on one hand. That's amazing. Truly amazing. I really in when I think about it sometime. I don't I was leaving. When they called third in second place. I was like, Okay, there's no way I want this thing. Yeah, no, yeah. Cuz I was like, I was like, is obviously these people don't know about good cuisine and good food. And classy food. So I'm gonna leave I need to worry about what's for dinner tonight. You know, I need to get back to my solitude and where I feel the safest. And they call my name and I was like, Oh well, what was that winning dish? That was the fat seared scallops over a mango mango corn orzo with micro celery. And I have one of the judges I'll never forget. He said. He said it was already a nice dish. But the micro celery, set it off. Big shout out to our little little little wildthings firm in DC the only female owned Miko green farm. They I got them, I got that. Micro celery for them. And a lot of times I feel like microgreens are overrated and just an afterthought. So it's nice that you found one that really complimented the dish because I'm not a huge fan of microgreens. I mean, you know, I'm talking about like so often, it's just seems like an afterthought, like people just pitch it on there for a little color and it doesn't really bring much flavor wise to the plate. Let's see, that's the thing if you like okay like that this micro celery right, the dish, the dish itself, started off with a mango and corn that had been put through the juicer and some smoke seasol and heavy creams became an emotion. So then the cob from the corn was boiled the Oryza was born was cooked in that water. So then you put something snappy in a different taste and celery mixed up in there. It just says to power off completely, the most unlikely and most unlikely things. I think I think if it wasn't for the Microsoft Are took a good looking, it's quite a feat that you want. And I know the road to recovery to get there was not easy. What were you doing at that point? Professional wise? Had you gone back to Cooking yet? Because no, you know, because we'll get to that part of the story you did become personal chef, private chef and did a lot of that. But this was, but this was you weren't cooking at the time, this was just like cooking for the passion. I was doing it for the passion for therapy for to let people know my peers know that I'm still alive, that I'm still doing things he was this very, very personal. It's like, it's like Sundays, I would get up and catch a lift to do phone circles farmers market. And they just had all kinds of stuff out there. So I was buying whatever I could whatever I could afford. And they had stands to have proteins from like local farms, pieces of bison, also buco, you know, all good stuff that I can get so long as it was like fulfilling for me to come home and make a dish on Sunday night. It really helped me get through a lot. And when did you decide then that you wanted to give this a shot? Me, you know, for your income for your profession. I wanted to give this again, because the bad part, the thing I worried about, let me say this, I worried about having, I felt I'm worried about slipping into a whole cognitive dissonance type of thing. I talked to other chefs that were handicapped and lost extremities, legs, arms, fingers, you know, stuff like that. And they told me Don't get so deep into it that you feel you can do it. And sadly, I did. And my judgment, I questioned I, I hired and partner with some people who did not know what they were doing. And they wind up costing me money. hard lessons learned, right? Man $2.22 started off. Terrible. You know, I long story short, I was doing a wedding. I've been working with the people for such a long time. And I hired these guys that were going to take care of stuff for me. While I took care of the food and do what I was supposed to do. Mess the whole thing. I wanted to pay him back. A huge portion. And I were the home I had for a long time over that I took that. I took that harder than having a stroke and being left abandoned. They really showed me something about me that could have all these life. Things happened to me. But I took it harder than I felt that I let somebody down. And I took I'm not the type to go. Well, it was the was that I took it off. I took it off. What are the lasting effects from the stroke? Like have you have you shown recovery? How far is the recovery? Come? Do you I'm working on my on my right side right now. My right so this is a week? Can you like grip a knife and hold things? Still no gripping a knife. But with my I could but I can still walk with my right leg. But my right leg is also in the brace. So you're still dependent on people. Like if you go to do a dinner, you need sous chefs and people to execute with you. Yeah, definitely. I've done a couple of by myself, but I don't prefer to. I need a sous chef. I'm somebody who is tolerant, somebody who understands. It's like this. If I had to learn from somebody like me, that only has one hand but has a lot of experience. There's no excuse. Because you got two hands, and I got one. There's no There's no excuse. And I need to sit down every once in a while so I'm not fatigued. But there's still things that I want to accomplish. And I'm trying to get there. Well, I would love to talk about that because you and I have talked on and off for years on Instagram mostly. And you did send me a message saying that, you know you were kind of done that you had been uninspired about food you were you were going to be a content creator for people with disabilities 2022 chasing the dollar your book wasn't out and it just sounded like you were basically sending me like a message saying I'm retiring but then you know, it sounds like you're not ready to retire. So one what changed into what are you going to be doing? I thought to myself, myself is Matthew more Listen, he's an executive chef at the congressional country club. He was the former executive chef at the Ritz Carlton, Marriott, Marquis, Ritz Carlton Dubai. You know, he, I've been with him. I've known him since 2004. And he's myself. And basically, in a cluster of words, he was saying, No, it's okay to take a break. Don't take on more. Because what happens with me is that I take out more than what I think I'm what I'm capable of. And then when it doesn't go, right, I get depressed. So I had to stop that kind of behavior. And only do what I can handle and plan better. And like Valentine's Day is coming up a late evening, a lady named a Porsche. She called me up and she was like, Look, I know you're retired. But can you show me so one more time? Okay. Did you cook all the way straight through 2022? Like up through December in the holiday? When did you kind of stop them? Yeah, I kind of stopped. I would just do little things. Like, like I said, the girls are the ODU. Oh, do you ladies hockey team, the lady monarchs? I will feed them like three times a week. You know, I just kept my chops up. I did more reading and stuff and learning about different types of foods. So it sounds like now what you're doing is you're transitioning into an ice cream business, correct? Yeah. But the hard part is, is that I can't be a hypocrite to the people who have taught. And let me tell you what I told them. People who are taught and people that I work with are mostly people who are taught how to cook. They will try to get the catering thing off and make it happen. And they were like, you know, I just want to be low key I want to be on the ground. I was like, Dude, you don't get to choose that. The people do because as much as I want doing ice cream right? Down Virginia Beach, it does get cold out here. And I was doing lobster bids I'm from I'm from New England to they don't have a palette for lobster bisque. So he went crazy. Because they were like, Whoa, was this no crab now. You got crab and everything, that's fine. But we do lobster bids. So I'm selling the lobster biscuits like $15 a course $15 A pint and they're buying it. So transitioning to the ice cream company. If you read the thing that I sent you his thing when I was abandoned and left alone when I got home way after I got home from the hospital, when you have to apply for a disability. It takes eight months. And I remember not having nothing at all. Once I was like for myself, I had nothing to call my community and family chipped in and make sure that I was okay. So I was doing ice cream on time and a guy who was pretty handicap he buddy can drive he came to pick up he made me into commercial kitchen and came to pick me this chocolate ganache with toasted marshmallows I toasted the marshmallows first and then let the whip in there. He was just like please can I can I have some? And he didn't have all the money and he was like Is there any way that you can kind of ask to do I said go ahead is on the house go ahead. And he was so grateful and walked away and I said to myself you know what? We're gonna build this company. But I'm gonna come up with 50 Take $50 off of every $1,000 earned or whatever however I'm gonna break it down. But I'm gonna put it into a fun call to come coming home fun to help stroke victims that are just learning how to put their pants on or just learning how to set up a podcast five years ago I would have been standing and looking at the phone and I would just want to get frustrating and say forget it you know you lose all sense of powers. So I'm problem solving and and math and you know there's certain things everybody's is different Yeah, when I when I went no matter what I wanted Maryland for the first seat for the ward if you ever seen a video I couldn't walk that good. And I was so afraid walking up on a stage that I thought that I was gonna fall I try not to look at it too much. I'm I could walk Blood better now. But back then, and just to have the award and holds it up of my hand and listen to the crowd. I was like, Man, I had to go through all this to get to this. Because I never won a competition. I've been playing competitions, but I never won. The only competition I could put behind my belt. But under my belt was, I battled the chef of the year in Maryland, the former executive chef of Miss Shirley's, in a brunch competition, I was scared out of my mind. And all I was doing was pushing the best that I could. And again, I did not expect to win. But she was so gracious. I thought, wow, you know, we took pictures and everything. So your goal with the ice cream is to provide funds for those post traumatic, physical or mental disabilities. Yeah, whether it is paying some of your rent, whether it is getting you Uber gift card, whether it's No, give you some groceries, something to door, dad, something, do something, something that helped because when you have been left, and you don't know, your cognitive skills aren't good. And you have all these emotions rushing through you like resentment, and, and then you're so nervous, and you sensory changes. So so that can make you jump, you know, a car backfiring or something like that. So how do you decide who gets funds and how you're distributing them? Have you thought about that? Like, is there going to be like an application process? Yeah, it'd be more like application process. Or with me, my customers, I get to know, you know, I get to know. And like, for example, during the pens damage, right? There's a few people that were buying from me that were like, hey, my such and such is sick. They got COVID, they can't taste anything. So I knew from being in the hospital and trying to get my senses back. That like stuff like orange sherbert would help. So I started making I made like, 30 pints of on server. And every customer that called me I was like, listen to you know, somebody who's suffering from COVID. Yeah, give them this. Give them this. Oh, how much does give him this. So turning to a more of a humanitarian thing? I mean, I've been blessed enough to still have enough skill to to make something. So let me let me do what I can. Let me try to help them and show them that somebody really understands you always hear that phrase, you know, you know what I'm saying? No, I do. See you're looking to primarily contribute to your local area, which is in like the Virginia Beach, Virginia area. No more than that. Honestly, I'm trying to do I'm trying to do at least these coasts. Are you setting this up like a nonprofit? Or is it still going to be a traditional business? No, that part of it, and probably a nonprofit, like, the ice cream is broken down into different flavors. I mean, the different brands, there's Tomlins, which is the business, there's a new one called chosen. And there's another one called, Hey, baby. So I got to figure out which one of those is going to be the nonprofit isn't working for access, because getting the license from the Department of Agriculture takes 45 days. And that's why I'm getting started early. And I want to talk about the fact that you're currently doing like a crowdfunding to get this off the ground, which, you know, I'll make sure that we get that info out there for everyone who can find it, but if people want to contribute and help you get this business going, they can contribute. It's been though it's been going good. I mean, people people are dropping, you know, little $20 $50 here, and then all the house because Mayflower Commissary Kitchen in Virginia Beach. Just to be there. I mean, there's rent, there's raw materials, you know, I'm not going to make a customer. I have to find why I did find a high fat ice cream mix. And then you know, you hook it up. Because you know, it doesn't make any sense to be cracking egg yolks and beyond. Beyond the on the stove and adding vanilla and all that when you can. Restaurant Depot sells ice cream mixes you could buy things at dollars for his ad dollars for are a case of four cameras, plus some ice cream for $20 apiece. I mean, so it already sells itself. Yeah, I mean, geez, what the cost of eggs alone right now? It's ice cream is not gonna get any cheaper anytime soon. Yeah, but what I tell people buy eggs. That's fine. But understand that, you know, the price goes as I do. I just talked somebody on the phone before you. I was like you live in in Prince George's County they're like yeah, I said, Well look out towards buoy in Maryland. There's firms out there. That would appreciate you coming in. I said, I'm not gonna tell you how much they charge. But call me when you come back. So they went up there and sent me a text. I had no idea. I was like get kissed the middleman before he gets to the store. Absolutely. And you get a better quality product. What are your ice cream flavors? I know you talked about the banana being one of yours do you like how many are you making? Chocolate avocados, banana pudding, this peach cobbler. The Strawberry Shortcake has to be the best seller that I have because I taught myself how to make biscuits with one hand and I make like a make the biscuit but I make a minor shortcake. And I learned how to make the strawberry crunch. And they all get churned in together with this strawberry custard base. Like this is one lady that buys and for me that's like she doesn't even have that's her lunch show he that he loves there's this chai tea. This screen Macia there's a chocolate marshmallow I told you about this birthday cake. Birthday cake does really well because it's just when you think of birthday cake. There is no template for a birthday cake, whatever. Somebody makes you for a birthday cake. And kids always love that. Like my kids always when we go to an ice cream shop like they end up getting birthday cake or one of those crazy color runs and birthday cake is almost always crazy. Right? The older community has been ordering butter pecan from me the holidays. I do sweet potato pie. That sounds amazing. How do you get the sweet potato flavor in there? Like are you roasting sweet potatoes, peeling mashing them in there. I'll make the sweet potato pie. Like a whole pie like a regular pie. But the feeling right? I'll put the filling into the custard and let it cook slow. But then I also bake the pie with the dope. So once it all cools down, once I'm churning the sweet potato pie, custard mix, I stick the whole pie in there. So Thanksgiving was like, I'll take two I'll take three. Sounds awesome. I would be so down for that. I'm gonna have to drive down there just to get some ice cream. It's been it's been doing good. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be like Terrence in ice cream form? What flavor is that? Toggle? No, no. No, it would be it would be a survey circuit. Because it's complex. As expensive I actually jacked the price up on him because it's the most labor intensive ice cream to make. Yeah, guess if you're making fresh biscuits just for ice cream that that adds some time. Yeah. And that's the thing because when the biscuits come out, they have to get the strawberry in the knob, the strawberry and warm water and sugar that's been sitting overnight. They have to get that to get them soaked in like a traditional strawberry shortcake. The dinner that I had coming up in in February actually has biscuits with the strawberry shortcake for two but on inside of it is a Sharpie Shorkie ice cream this down inside of it is a very labor intensive but I've make it so that you never forget it. That's why I don't follow trends. That sounds amazing. I we have been growing strawberries at home we planted a patch three or four years ago and there is nothing like when you get the best strawberries right. You know, just going back to you having the stroke right like no days are guaranteed. And you know, I know it literally changed everything about your life. For those listening who maybe have gone through something like that. What what do you want to tell them or for people like myself who've never had to encounter that like I just like it must change the way you live every single day. Your perspective on life changes. Everything. It can be the sun is out. It's like 45 degrees right now. If it was a typhoon, it was raining, it would be a beautiful day. To me, because there's nothing better than life. When you spent six weeks in a hospital, six weeks of uncertainty, it's easy to get out and say, Okay, I gotta run the store, I'll be back. But have you had to spend seven minutes putting on your shoes, you can't just rush to the door. It takes time going down the stairs, I will tell people this. Be nice. And be good to people that are handicapped. Don't look at him with pity. Just know that you see them and instead of moving, don't look at him with pity look at him or crying and say, wow. Because I could not sit down in that apartment in Hyattsville anymore. I couldn't do no more. I couldn't do it. And I'm competitive. So I'm seeing everybody during the pandemic, and I'm watching them, you know, make this like a big April trend. There's this kind of trend, and they're doing this. And I love Chevron locally. He got, she got upset with me, but I told her, I said, Look, I said, if you're fishing, you're in a fish tank. You know, that's all you will see, right? Well, you may ask, now you will see things you know, like a rock be turned over every once in a while that was done from another fish. Because the same thing I said, Don't become a chef and a fish thing. I don't follow the trends. The trends start to follow you. When I did the banana pudding ice cream, and went crazy. And the hands arose, that's perfect. But then I started seeing Hey, Tom, I'm gonna put an ice cream with caramel. And other folks who get mad. I said, Don't get mad that this means that you can't make a move until I do. So So okay, because for everything that you're going to see me do, I got a million more. So it's alright, I'm at the age now. I just turned 53 I made these now. I'm just like, you know, I just want to create nice food for classy people. People that understand food and that are open enough in their minds to listen. So well, I am truly in awe. I don't know how you do it. I hope I personally am never put in that position. Never have to go to you know, my father in law just had a mini stroke this week. But thank God it was one of those things that like five minutes, it was just a blip of garbled speech and then, you know, no lasting effects. And he's had a ton of tests and stuff. But was the that's the thing. People don't people. They look at me because I had a couple of mini strokes. But you know, to me, I was like, I gotta keep going. If I would have listened to me right now today. And but like no, okay. No more cigarettes. No more greasy foods. No more this more vegetables more this more this? No, I keep going into the next one. Until finally the big one hit me. And then I'm like, Oh, my God, what happened? So people that have many strokes that I've talked to? I tell him I said, Well, let me tell you let me show you how not to have a big one. We've been talking a lot about healthy eating already on the podcast in 2023. You know, I think there's something to be said whether it's silly or not. But the idea of like the reset, right? Like people say, this is the year I'm gonna get healthy. This is the year I'm gonna focus on mental health, physical health. But you know, I'm hoping that a lot of people do decide that it's time to take some of that seriously, I'm taking it more seriously than I have before. Well, Terence, it's always a pleasure having you on the show. Oh, you're so inspiring. I think this is a great place to leave it. Give our listeners something to think about, you know, as I've said, really kind of think about all of your blessings, especially if you have all of your if you have all your facilities, right and everything's going well for you, you have so much to appreciate and you know, slow down, right think about the small things in life. Again, thanks for coming on. And to all of our listeners. This has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast, go to chefs without restaurants.org To find our Facebook group, mailing list and Chef database. The community is free to join to get gig opportunities, advice on building and growing your business and you'll never miss an episode of our podcast. Have a great week.