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FROM THE FIELD: Learning to cook with healthy choices

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Bill Turney wasn’t interested in trading one stress-inducing career for another when he decided nearly a decade ago to go back to school.

While the career he now has is busy and can often mean long hours, Turney is doing something he enjoys and helping others learn to enjoy it as well. He hopes, too, he is teaching them a little about healthy eating.

“Going to culinary school (at Illinois Central College) was the best career decision I’ve made and it also was the best two years of my life,” said Turney, who will be 62 later in March. “I was like a walking history museum to the kids in the classes. I hope I was able to teach them a little, too.”

Teaching is what Turney does for a living now. He left a lucrative position in manufacturing and is the founder and owner of From The Field Cooking School in Morton. There he teaches basic cooking skills, how to plan and cook healthy meals, how to do specialty food and foreign cuisine, and holds classes for couples.

He also has classes that use cooking to build teamwork, classes he said have become popular with several companies in the area, and his school also does catering for special occasions.

He had no interest in working as a chef for a restaurant because he was aware of the stress involved with trying to operate a restaurant as a business while cooking to please clientele that would then be repeat customers.

“I was a suit-and-tie guy for 30 years, working a real high-stress job as a sales manager and operations manager. I got to a point I felt I needed to find a hobby for the stress release. Cooking was something I enjoyed so when I found out ICC had a culinary school, I signed up,” he said.

“The more I got into it, the more I loved it. I decided I needed to find some way to make cooking a career.”

It was his wife who suggested he start the cooking school. From The Field opened in September 2006. “It was a big financial hit for us, at first. It took quite a while to start making any money. To help we opened a bakery and café, but the recession wiped those out for us. But we have found other ways to make the school work,” he said.

One of the chief ways is the team-building classes he sold to several companies. “Once they try it and see how it can be a great team-building exercise, they come back and they spread the word. Right now, that’s the low hanging fruit. But it helps us be able to do the other classes. We have a lot of fun,” Turney said.

It is perhaps ironic that he’s teaching culinary skills to the corporate world he left behind. “I mean, I did well in the corporate world but I didn’t enjoy it. I never really felt like I fit in,” Turney said, adding he often was a “bit too outspoken” for that kind of career.

When Turney decided to start the school, he didn’t necessarily have the farm-to-table concept in mind. That’s because, he said, “that kind of thinking is just the way it should be anyway. We should do all we can to use only the freshest organic foods because the corporate food producers don’t care a lick about nutrition. They only want to make money. Farm-to-table isn’t a fad because it should just be natural.”

He is learning that the younger generations are starting to make the connection and are interested in growing their own gardens. He teaches a class on how to start a garden. “Everybody should have a garden,” he said.

His four-week healthy cooking course teaches not only cooking techniques, but shopping techniques, as well. “Part of the course is learning to find the best food in the grocery store, how to read the ingredients. I tell my students that if they don’t understand all the ingredients, put it back. I want them to develop a healthy attitude about healthy eating,” Turney said.

Turney blames his generation for causing healthy cooking to become a lost art. He knew how to cook from an early age because his mother wanted to make sure he had all the basic domestic skills — including laundry and cleaning and others — before he left home as an adult.

“Not everybody was as lucky as I was in that regard. It was right after the war years that corporate America started doing things like TV dinner, and then fast food restaurants, We became a very mobile society, which made it easier to hit those restaurants or find other ways to avoid cooking. We since have lost generations that didn’t know how to do it. I hope I can teach some of them how, anyway,” he said.

For now Turney is happy doing that, but admits he may someday want to sell the school. “I enjoy it a lot but it can be a lot of work. Right now I can do it. I don’t have any trouble keeping up with the younger people. I’ve been blessed with good health. I’ll be here a while,” he said.

“We have a lot of fun here. I’m doing what I want to do and enjoying it. That’s what it’s all about, really”

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).