Hyattsville-based chef Terence Tomlin was working at Washington restaurant Hawthorne as its executive chef last November when suddenly his body felt strange. His body kept shifting to the right as if something was pulling him, he said, and then, suddenly, he hit the floor.
That day, Tomlin suffered from two strokes, which would leave the right side of his body paralyzed and send him to the hospital for six weeks. His future looked bleak, but nearly a year later, Tomlin will return to the kitchen, cooking up eclectic eats at a pop-up event Dovecote Cafe in Reservoir Hill using his left hand.
“I never thought in a thousand years that I would be able to create with my left hand,” said Tomlin, who will prepare alligator sliders with Georgia peach cayenne aioli; a pumpkin soup with plantains and ginger honey; scallops with mushrooms and applewood smoked bacon pea foam; and matcha ice cream paired with huckleberries and blueberries for the Tuesday event. Dinner seating begins at 7 p.m., and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Morgan State University’s Public Health program, said Tomlin, who has come along way since November.
The Bridgeport, Conn.-native went from being one of eight black executive chefs in Washington, to reteaching himself everyday tasks, like brushing his teeth, going to the bathroom, walking and learning how to use his left hand as his dominant hand in the weeks following his strokes. It was trying, said Tomlin.
”You look at yourself, and you say, ‘What have I become?” he said, adding that as a chef who knows the power of food, he should have known better.
Tomlin, 48, admitted to formerly eating too many salty foods, rarely checking his blood pressure, and smoking, which likely contributed to his hypertension, which caused his stroke. His hospitalization was eye-opening, he said — not only did he realize that he should have been more mindful of his diet, but he also saw how unhealthy diets and lifestyles affected those around them — especially those in the African-American community. A majority of the patients that he saw while he was in the hospital were black, and two days after his close friend Abdulla Thompson visited him in the hospital, he unexpectedly died of a stroke.
In February, with the support of his wife and his then-manager Christie Dorsey, Tomlin began the attempt to make dishes using just his left hand, and used his time away from professional kitchens to practice and dive into the more intricate histories and fun facts about food, he said.
“It feels good to get the food knowledge and understand. I’m just happy to still be here,” said Tomlin, who has since decided to return to the culinary world slowly by doing pop-ups at restaurants and giving a portion of the proceeds to organizations or families. He chose Dovecote Cafe as the first location because of the cafe’s dedication and involvement in the community, and because Baltimore reminds him of his home, he said.
“Bridgeport is a lot like Baltimore. I feel more at home in Baltimore” compared to other cities, he said.
Though Tomlin’s right side is still weak — he only has about 25 percent usage of his right hand and 80 percent of his right leg, which means he’ll likely use both a wheelchair and a cane at Tuesday’s event — the event will show his progress. Tomlin said he’s expected to make a full recovery, but he’s looking forward to sharing his story and journey with other people.
The chef is also set to release a documentary and book called “A Beautiful Stroke” this coming spring, which will focus on his physical recovery, stroke awareness and will offer culinary advice for young aspiring chefs.
“I don’t want my career to go in vain,” Tomlin said. “I want to make sure that I leave my mark before my time is over.”
If you go
Chef Terence Tomlin will prepare a host of dishes at a Dovecote Cafe pop-up event nearly a year after he suffered from two strokes. 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday. Dovecote Cafe, 2501 Madison Ave. $35. For tickets and more information, visit beautifulstroke.eventbrite.com.