PALM SPRINGS -- At first glance, a chef who doesn’t want to own his own restaurant may seem like a pilot who is afraid of heights, but Tony Thomas eschewed the notion that chefs have to spend 12 hours a day on their feet and have their fortunes rest on a wait staff showing up on time.
Thomas, who trained at four-star restaurants while attending culinary school, moved to the valley a year ago to start a career that would combine his sales and culinary background.
Thomas offers personal cooking services as well as private dinner parties and cooking lessons for Coachella Valley residents.
He was a late convert to the culinary arts, however The Tennessee native worked in sales for 15 years before finding his next calling.
"When I was 38, I just decided that if I had to get on a plane and fly somewhere for a business meeting and be gone all week and get back on the weekends, if I had to do that one more time, I was just going to pull my hair out," said Thomas.
Thomas had spent those 15 years selling food products to restaurant chains like TGIFriday’s, and had often been involved in helping to develop new menu items.
His interest in cooking kindled, Thomas enrolled in the culinary program at the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1999. During the two-year program he trained at four-star restaurants, but decided upon graduation that restaurant ownership was not in his future.
"If you own a restaurant you have to be there all the time. The type of work that I do now, it’s still physically demanding, but it’s nowhere near as physically demanding as being on your feet for 10 to 12 hours a day," said Thomas.
Thomas moved to Palm Springs in July 2003 to start his own business. The extra time has given him the opportunity to offer more services than personal cooking. This July, Thomas started offering personal cooking classes. Each class lasts for about four hours. His classes are taught in a client’s home for a minimum of six people.
Thomas gives lessons and demonstrations to his pupils before dividing them up into groups of two or three people and letting them loose on the cutting boards and frying pans.
"They’re making the food, and at the end, everyone sits down and eats what they made," Thomas said. "I get a big kick out of it. I like to show people things that they can go home and do in their kitchen so that when they invite people over, they look at the food and go ‘Wow, you did that?’"
Most of Thomas’ business still comes from personal chef work. He moved to Palm Springs from Atlanta because he has arthritis that is aggravated by humidity. He said he was happy to learn that many people in the valley were looking for gourmet cooking.
Catherine McCammon, who cares for her 81-year-old mother Ruth McCammon, is one of them. Thomas cooks meals for Ruth McCammon on a regular basis.
"Before using Tony I was going to restaurants and bringing food home, this is more personal, I have meals ready right at home," said Catherine McCammon.
Thomas cooks several different meals that provide enough to eat for between two and three weeks. Each is left in the freezer with reheating instructions printed on disposable containers.
He charges $425 for each two week period. For dinner parties and his cooking lessons it is $75 per person.
"I can’t emphasize enough how much he has helped my mother, she does require fresh, well-cooked meals," said McCammon "He’s filled a void definitely, it’s been fabulous to see her eat well, and it’s been a plus for me as a caregiver."
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