Starting as a reliable dishwasher at age fifteen, Tom climbed his way out of the suds and into the chef’s kitchen swiftly. From prepping salads and vegetables at sixteen to using the grill and cutting steaks at seventeen, he learned early on how much a person could accomplish with a dedicated work ethic and a positive attitude. These fundamentals of life paired with his kitchen etiquette are essential for Chef Tom and his teaching methods at the International Culinary Institute (ICI) of Myrtle Beach.
As an extension of Horry Georgetown Technical College, ICI is a state-of-the-art palace (as Tom says) with the highest quality culinary gadgets, spotless kitchens, and professional chef instructors. The facility includes a student-operated restaurant (Fowler Dining Room) where guests can enjoy various changing menus focused on taste, texture, color, and creativity. Guests can even make a reservation at the Chef’s Bar to watch the students create their meals. The ICI Bakery offers freshly baked cakes, cookies, soups, salads, sandwiches, and more. The institute also features a beautiful greenhouse and a vibrant garden as well as customized grills and a Brazilian smoker. From broth and sausage to cheese and chocolate, everything is homemade at ICI.
For 23 years and counting, Chef Tom has taken pride as a veteran chef instructor for ICI as he continues “sculpting his student chefs for the future.” Although Chef Tom was introduced to the culinary arts as a teenager in Boston, he was sculpted through his diverse learning experiences. After receiving his culinary degree at Johnson & Wales, he was an apprentice at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando, Florida, alongside a dozen Swiss and Germans. These connections landed him a job overseas where he expanded his training for four and a half years across many European countries. Once he returned to the States with an impressive resume, he secured an executive chef position at the Sea Captain’s House along the Grand Strand’s oceanfront.
Chef Tom quickly made a name for himself in his new home. In the first six state food competitions he entered, he won first place in all six. Overall, he has collected eleven first places and forty-five awards. His local earnings brought him recognition from ICI and his delicious creations led him to his instructor job offer. As a well-rounded, achieved chef, he now judges competitions and has his own business, Strand Catering. He is known for his attention to detail and prized presentation skills that he has mastered throughout his culinary experiences. Tom enjoys the fact that he can pass along his knowledge just as easily as he can always continue to gain more because the culinary arts is an endless learning profession.
At ICI, the students learn how food should be prepared. Chef Tom explained, “We don’t buy any parts…we use the whole bird, the whole hog, or whole fresh fish. We utilize our connections to support locally for all our cooking.” One particular class that takes place during the summer is the Farm-to-Table course. The students go out to local farms, dig in the dirt, harvest their own produce, and bring it back to the college to prepare. The next day is their 4-course gourmet lunch that is served in their restaurant. ICI also hosts a farmer’s market every Thursday (Noon-4 pm) where ICI sells its own special cuisine, and the main hall is filled with local businesses selling their creations and in-season produce.
One of ICI’s main goals is to teach their future chefs how to source fresh, sustainable ingredients straight from local docks, fields, and farms so specifically cooking to the seasons is an important aspect of Chef Tom’s curriculum. At any restaurant where he was executive chef, he would change the menu every three months. His favorite summer dishes involve local grouper, snapper, flounder, shrimp, colorful vegetables, and various grains and starches. He teaches firsthand that the best way to achieve high-quality, well-executed food is to cook with what’s local, fresh, and of course, lots of spices.
Spices are the special ingredients that give a dish the “wow factor” Chef Tom is always striving to achieve. There is “no bland food allowed” in his kitchen so salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and onion are always a must. The more out-of-the-ordinary spices he likes to use are turmeric, paprika, curry, and various salts: Himalayan, Black Sea, and finishing salt. Creating culinary dishes is an art form that brings people together. As Chef Tom continues to spice up his life and his customers’ palates, he is not only dedicated to creating “5-star, 5-diamond” food but also “5-star, 5-diamond” student chefs.