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Kitchen Blog

06 May


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A NOT-SO-NEW Hope. Schooling Kitchen Sage!

May 6, 2013 | By | No Comments

It seems that the first question I am presented with when it comes to the new culinary leadership academy is “How old do you have to be to be in the program”.  The answer is always round about because even though the criteria is really 16, I reserve the right to include that kid that is ready for Kitchen Sage despite their age. Why would anyone ever want to hold back a kid from learning?

With this idea, we came up with Kitchen Sage’s 10(young)1’s! I love the idea of outreach to other great programs like Blandford Nature Center and the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.  Why not reach out to our future “Kitchen Sagers”?!! And you know what happened the first time I reached out to give, I got 10 fold back!

Last Friday I was asked to give a quick demo on how to cook wild mushrooms in front of the students at the Blandford Nature Center.  What a gift.  These kids have it GOING ON!  The first thing I noticed when I pulled up, these kids were outside!  Running, exploring, being a part of the ecology, not chained to a desk learning about it!  These kids were sharp, polite, and down right impressive.  Really the most impressive thing was the presentation that Mary Jane Dockery gave the students with a slide projector(circa 1960?)!  My heart skipped so many beats with the way she inspired and interacted with the students.  It was not because she had some high tech presentation, it was her passion for our planet that kept us all hanging on her words.  I know that if I can be half the educator she is, Kitchen Sage could be an such a positive impact someday as her Blandford Nature Center has been to our city!

Chef Chad’s take on the program was witnessing how mushrooms were taught encompassing not just a desk in a classroom, but in a round table format that lead to a medium with paint, then finally culinary. Talk about a viewpoint from every angle!

Another thing that really impressed me was the way these kids interacted with me.  I really believe they were more mature! I mean some of these kids I already knew, but to see them in the learning environment afforded to them was wicked smart and made me feel like I was the student!  These kids not only had a grasp of the material, but they were all to happy to share their knowledge! I need to inspire like this if KS was going to have the same impact on our city.  Also, EVERY kid was healthy, full of energy! Time to pry into the secret of Blandford’s success!  The cool thing was that its NOT a secret.  Nurturing is not a higher science. Nurturing is inclusion, instruction, inspiration, and a call to action. Thank you Blandford! I think every future teacher needs to spend an afternoon you!  By the way, here’s a clip!

Be sure to notice how the kids serve and interact!!



03 May


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Who would be just crazy enough to…..KITCHEN SAGE!

May 3, 2013 | By | No Comments

The one thing about working with so many non-profits, you get a great sense of what type of boards are out there.  For Kitchen Sage, I knew in my heart that the less board members the better.  I am not what you call “Politically Correct”, I feel sometimes that the politics have a funny way of being a disservice to the people. Kitchen Sage was not going to be for everyone, even with its “All Inclusive Heart”.  Kitchen Sage has to be a call to action, NOT an entitlement.  I wanted my students to have investment upfront, to give me a sense of their sincerity.  I feel that we are breeding a country of losers if everyone is a winner!  Everyone needs to embrace their failure, if true success is to be achieved.

Here is another cool thing about what I do for a living: I have learned that relationships are the true success of any life or the life blood of a business. So what a great place to start!  Who do I know that would have this vision? Next, who understands my intentions and would be there to protect them.  “Holy scnikees!  What on earth am I thinking??”

Please stop for a minute and think about what I am putting on the line here!  Dave Kantor and Wendy Wassink made this perfectly clear when they helped me design the first JuiceBall.  What if something went terribly wrong? My name was on the line, and that was just for a birthday party!

Now I wanted to create an after school program to mentor teens full time.  Basically I want to give teens in my neighborhood big BIG sharp knives!!  I will have to put everything into Kitchen Sage to make this a reality. My name, my reputation, my life savings, even my credit cards are on the table!

I think I need an attorney!

So who should I ask to mentor me with all the complexity that is the law?  There was no shortage of options for me since I have fed a great number of GREAT attorneys.  What attorney would understand my vision the best and at the same time be watching my back? I knew that my pick for a board member had to guide me but also carry the vision further.  Allison Horton Sleight was the obvious choice.  She has this very nurturing aura about her, with that a dragon-lady side that you just know you would never want to get on! Plus she was a go-getter.  In my experience with Allison, her resourcefulness proved so beneficial that I knew right away she would not only protect me personally, but my passion for educating our youth as well.  When she said “of course” I swear you could hear my deep sigh of relief from a mile a way!


Now who do I know that understands financial matters? Someone that gets me and my “CRAZY”? Duh! Anicia Latter.  Not only does she have a background with great financial institutions under her belt, her philanthropy resume is wicked awesome!  To top things off, not only does she have a perfect attendance record for JuiceBall (like Allison), she has stepped in to produce the past three!  She has this uncanny way of roping me in!  Anyone that can handle a chef that says out loud “I think we should build a tower in the middle of the JW Marriott this way when I am the Hunch Back of JuiceBall, I can see the Franciscan Sisters from Lowell do their medieval fashion show better!” would totally be up for my board.  Not only is Anicia used to handling such outlandish goals, she does it with a grace that is almost regal. Anicia thank you for being in my world, oh and saying “YES!!”.

Now then, I knew I needed two more board members and I knew I wanted them to put the SAGE in Kitchen Sage! I also wanted two people that I not only respected, but that I knew in their hearts they wanted to better Grand Rapids.  Also I wanted the future of my board to all be young at heart, fun, and deadly honest with TOMMY!  I had some ideas who would fit this bill…………..

The HunchBack of JuiceBall and The Fransciscan Sisters!

The HunchBack of JuiceBall and The Fransciscan Sisters!

01 May


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In High School I had a hard time getting into the parties, Now……

May 1, 2013 | By | No Comments

If you have never had the opportunity to attend one of my parties, especially one of my chef dinners I would like to explain to you what I do for a living. Maybe then you could get a glance of my world and why I want to share my life mentoring our kids on a much bigger scale than the monthly “kids in the kitchen” type programs.

From an early age I figured if I threw the party, I was sure to get in!(feel free to reference the image of Michael C. Hall in SIXTEEN CANDLES!).  And let me tell you, from Catholic Central to Aquinas College, I did pretty good!  Now of course I would never condone this behavior for the underaged, but that behavior really started to turn for the good in college. My friends and I would throw parties that were not only out of this world, but also did some real good for the community.  Now that this passion has been honed so sharp that it provides not only countless “Tommy’s Package” donations across the country but a community outreach than makes a chef’s life more meaningful as well.  With anything in life, one must prioritize and did I ever on my 40th birthday.  The first real effort was the JuiceBall, buying juice boxes for our city’s own KFB.  What a great start!  But now not only do I want to give out a fish, I also want to teach our kids not only to fish, but to ultimately own the pond!!

So I HAVE to tell you about this weekend!  My friend Laurie Beard of Founder’s Trust bid and won “Tommy’s Package” at a charity to have me cook in her home.  What she failed to tell me was that the whole family was coming in town to celebrate her major recognition from GVSU, which meant an exhausting weekend of hoopla and speeches for her! I was chosen to be a part of this…pretty cool huh?! Well being a gentleman, I never discuss what goes on with Tommy in the home, but this thank-you email gives you a glimpse of what I do for a living, whether donation or paid, I only have one switch and if its on, it is ON!


Since your voice mail message was so hilarious, I thought I should email you mine since it too is very long!  There is a formal “Thank You” coming your way!  As far as your guests are concerned, please include them on this email and forward me their info so we can keep in touch!!
Your hoot and hollers made my week and demonstrated why my career and life are so fulfilled and why Kitchen Sage is an absolute must.  If our kids could experience a life so rich, maybe the things in life that glitter would prove less important!
On that note, this is all that was shoved in yer faces!!
Tommy’s Package!
For Laurie Beard!!!
Ensalada Antonini
Arugula, Shaved Parm, Pecan, Proscuitto,Truffle Oil
Trendy Mushroom Saute
Morels, Shitake, Oyster, and Crimini Mushrooms all in a Cognac cream
Bleu and Grape  Pizza
Curry Blackened Prawns
Crabbie Pattie Johnny Cake
Chipotle Aioli, Mango Salsa
Scallops and Bacon
with a Sweet Soy Finish
Saffron and Basil Risotto
Rosemary and Orange Salmon
Chipotle Quail
“Rich Girls’ Chicken Wings”
Parsley and Lemon Zest Lamb Chops
Cabernet Cherry and “Jeremy” Finish
Rosemary, Garlic, and Peppercorn aged Tenderloin of Beef
Danish Bleu and Tomato
Banana’s Foster
I was absolutely honored to cap off your awesome weekend! The awards obviously reflect your sincerity. GVSU must be crazy proud to have you as alumni! And to top it off, after a substantial donation to get me in your home, you added another substantial donation to my cause!  You are definitely Grand Rapids Laurie!  Thank you with all my heart! By the way, did you hire Greg Conway for his reputation and skill as a banker or as a ringer just in case Founder’s were ever to enter into an eating competition?!! The pleasure was all mine!
I hope this helps anyone with any questions, WHY KITCHEN SAGE?
(also the ladies love the Kitchen Sage!) Congrats Laurie!!


28 Apr


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Forget FWB, I needed FWV(friends with vision)

April 28, 2013 | By | No Comments

It seems to me that when I am in a “Tommy Funk” someone with a completely different viewpoint comes in to inevitably offer some clarity. Always on the go, and the parking lot still burning in my mind, I pull up to a gig. This gig happens to be a chef donation redemption for Rotary, welcoming me into his home, Ed Bujdos.  Ed I hit it off right away. He’s that guy you immediately want to have a beer with because of this goofy sincerity about him! (I know, Pot, Kettle, BLACK!) While I am in his kitchen way before guest arrival we talk in depth about my concern for the future of Grand Rapids and how our teens have no access to some basic kitchen skills or Kitchen Sage.

What a gig!  After cementing some new friendships, Ed assures me that he would be more than happy to play a mentorship role on this vision of mine. So what does he do next?  Ed sets up a time to meet with Stacie Behler (PR with MY Meijer!), just to pick her brain.  Originally I wanted to have my FWM(friends with money$) buy out the neglected store in my hood.  Here I would build a market that would host kids after school where they could learn kitchen skills by prepping all sort of fresh stuff for the market.  In turn the program would be sustained through deliciousness! We need a real market!! This could be an answer to both issues. Ed even came up with the name..GR eats Market(Greats Market!), pretty cool huh?

You know the saying “behind every great man, there’s a great woman”, well Stacie owned that statement for two meaningful guys that afternoon! Her advice hit with such depth and clarity that not only left Ed and I dumbfounded, but inspired me to drive this vision further AND along another path.  Stick with what I know, kitchen, people, marketing.  There was no need for a store front for Kitchen Sage, sustainability could rely on my relationships. And the last thing I needed was more retail!

Then the two arrange for me to speak in front of Rotary, what a complete honor!  I even promised Stacie no “F” bombs!  I was ready to share my vision in front of THE visionaries. I was “confident nervous”  and then George Aquino introduces me.  I will NEVER forget Aquino’s words. Having George Aquino introduce me in front of Rotary was like having Michael Buble open for your niece’s 4th grade musical! Before my 40th birthday, I was the funny chef donating to every cause. Now with Stacie, Ed, and George in my corner I was on my way to being the philanthropist I was meant to be.

After my speech, I felt like I was a bride in a reception line!  All of Rotary engaged me for over an hour. (not one Rotarian discussed my chef coat though!) Then I happen to meet Ed DeVries.  Ed tells me that he has some property he is working on in my neighborhood with Boys and Girls Club!  Now here’s an opportunity!  I think Rick Huisman is going to be the new executive director, got to call him now……….IMG_0069

25 Apr


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Out of the Parking Lot and into the FIRE!

April 25, 2013 | By | No Comments

The only thing suppressing my appetite at this time is the anger in my gut!  All the questions going through my head: Why don’t they teach Home Economics anymore? Why can’t a kid access even an apple in my ‘hood? How could anyone NOT see the price of convenience and its toll on our nation? Where could I send these teens for mentorship? Who even mentors teens in the culinary arts?  Why can’t I have a Meijer downtown GR? (OH to DREAM!) Did I bring home my cherry salsa?!!!

It all made sense though. Why should a struggling market sell perishables, especially if their customers don’t know what to do with them? No one seems to support GRPS, so why throw money to revitalize an old program that can’t be quantified on the MEAP? (even though they are all our kids, oh and as far as the MEAP …. insert your own profanity!). I know my chef friends would totally sign up to ANY program mentoring our culinary future if only we had one. Finally I am sure Meijer has done their own diligence and research to see if a store downtown would thrive (Still Dreaming).

Still angry, I realized that maybe I should point the finger at myself. Then I looked on my wall and saw a pic of the first JuiceBall. I looked at all the momentum of what a silly birthday party could do. We have done well with JuiceBall, awareness of Kid’s Food Basket and their mission, JuiceBoxes galore, and amazing community involvement. What about the possibility of a springboard program off JuiceBall? Almost candidly I asked myself:

What would Mary K. Hoodhood do?

Then I smiled, made my nachos, and made a list of people to call.

Don’t worry, I had more than enough cherry salsa for my nachos!!

salsa 2-5449

24 Apr


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So back to why my message is clearer!

April 24, 2013 | By | No Comments

You know, when you are so passionate about a vision, sometimes you have trouble conveying an intent. I think I said it all yesterday on the Dave Jaconette Show yesterday.  I usually get over to the show every Tuesday at 10. Dave and I get to catch up and we have some great banter before I get on the air to share with the audience all the positive things going on. If you notice when we are on the air, Dave has a great way of clarifying, almost interpreting my passion for Kitchen Sage! it is part of his mentorship and I am crazy grateful! Thanks to Jere Sorger for giving us this format!

just click below!

Kitchen Sage 0423


24 Apr


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Now Back to the Parking Lot!

April 24, 2013 | By | No Comments

So after I assured the teens that I was NOT the chef they see on TV by sharing with them my 14 hour day with little pay, I began to see something in their eyes you would not expect from any teen…engagement!  These kids were cool, respectful, and down right funny! They had expressed the reasons why my neighborhood would not employ them but still could not wait for an opportunity to be a chef.  I gave them some sincere optimism with existing avenues that they should check out, knowing full well that the resources for this are scarce.

Time for some El Matador chips!  As a went to purchase the base of my nachos, here is one of the guys from outside in front of me buying junk and more junk to wash it down.  I know, you know that this was probably his dinner. Anger level, luke warm!

Time for an intervention!!  I very bluntly informed him that being a chef starts with his belly!  Because when you put kick butt awesome grub in yer belly, you want to share your passion with your family, your friends and one day in your own restaurant! After asking if he had access to an oven or microwave, I sent him to grab a bag of chips because he was going to make nachos for his homies!  So I grab the block cheese, the french onion dip, the can of beans, and the jar of salsa(God forbid real ingredients in the neighborhood!).  The kid comes back with a national brand bag of tortilla chips that look like they have been on a truck from Texas! Anger level, definitely HOT!

Time to pass on my mantra,”GO local or MOVE!” I explain why he should purchase the chips made by his neighbors, even though they SEEM more expensive, I showed him a breakdown of value.  Now I am REALLY MAD!(you know I want to use worst words, but gonna keep it clean!) I check out, say good night, go home and stew over my nachos!…..

23 Apr


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Now a bit of today!

April 23, 2013 | By | No Comments

So I hope you guys are getting the Blog! While you were getting the first updates from Tommy, I did a couple other things. These awesome blogs that now operate are because my Designed for Good team! Not only did they put up the site(in 60 hours!), but they are now mentoring Tommy Boy! Craig Cockerill, a guy that reminds me if Jack Black and Russell Crowe(from A Beautiful Mind) were to give birth to an articulate son. That would be Craig! He wasn’t even on my team, but he felt compelled to self appoint himself Kitchen Sage’s webmaster! So this guy is making me OWN Word Press! I can’t wait to introduce you to all that are making this project a GO!

Today I also ran my business and catered a lunch for Civic Theatre because they are wicked cool.  Then I did waaaaay too much admin work for a chef!  Craig came over to my house this evening to pimp out something else on the website that I will have to learn later! (he talks funny! weird words that don’t have vowels! what’s up with that?) but then the website is soooo freeky cool! I will happen to ask him if we can do something on the site, then all of the sudden he’s talking to Matt Fouty, Tom Englesman, or Tyler Wayner about God know’s what? Next thing you know we have a new feature on the website!? Thank you gentlemen, crazy skills.

Then Mr. Brian Gerrity stops by. You really don’t want to look at him wrong, he might cut ya. He could do it quick too, one the fastest chefs I have ever known! (Mr. Fire and Knife!) So he wants to write up some tunes for KS, so we had a funny chat about that!  Can’t wait to hear the tunes.  He is a renaissance man born just a few years too late! I miss working with him, now we have a great excuse to work together again. Check out B. and his daughter, Briana!

Guess which one’s Brian?! I’m optimistic!

Now its Almost 11pm..Good Night GR!

22 Apr


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Forget the Big Bang, We will start with the Big Idea…

April 22, 2013 | By | No Comments

The Story of Kitchen Sage

Until one fall evening I was feeling pretty good about my contributions to my city and the surrounding areas of Grand Rapids.  With three annual birthday parties under my belt, the “JuiceBall”, I had gained great acceptance as a third-party fundraiser for my favorite charity- Kids’ Food Basket.  With my friends, we not only threw one of the most fun charitable events of the New Year — but we were able to provide KFB with countless juice boxes for their sack suppers. The funny thing was that the first JuiceBall was really meant to be a “Friend Raiser” to help put KFB on the map. This was my first taste of how great my city could be.

So back to the night that I realized that sometimes your best is not good enough.  I happen to live downtown Grand Rapids, Heritage Hill to be exact.  What a great and diverse neighborhood to call home, but it really lacks a decent grocery store.  The store in my neighborhood is not friendly for a farm-to-table chef, but it does have some great local tortilla chips which is perfect for the chef that has homemade salsa at his command…NACHOS! Pulling up I saw some of my neighbors hanging out.  Some may find five city teens hanging out in a parking lot suspect and what happened next was a pleasant surprise.  Sporting my chef coat, these kids chose to engage me like I was Jamie Oliver himself………..

22 Apr


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A New Recipe for Grand Rapids!

April 22, 2013 | By | No Comments

Please stay tuned for Chef Tommy FitzGerald’s HISTORY OF KITCHEN SAGE! The mission: to provide access to nutrition and culinary awareness to teens in Grand Rapids Michigan!

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