Two words define the journey of Chef Bruce Tuttle from the kitchens of downtown Lakeland restaurants to the kitchen of All Saints’ church: Divine Intervention.
“That’s exactly how I’d define it,” says Bruce, who joined the church staff as Director of Food Services in April. “I had no idea that I would find my home here at All Saints’. But as soon as I came to this church, I had a sense that this was meant to be.”
Bruce grew up in Lakeland and his earliest memories of kitchen life were on his mother’s knee watching her bake her famous layer cakes, “She was one of two cake bakers in town at the time and made the best layer cakes in Lakeland - vanilla, red velvet and German chocolate - and I continue to make them just the same way,” he said. “We were a cooking family and I grew up in the kitchen.”
He attended Lakeland High School and after graduating (one year early) he began a round post-graduate studies - first at Polk Community College, then Florida Southern College, then to the University of Tampa and finally to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
He continued further education in St. Petersburg before moving back to Lakeland in 1998. Hoping to get back to his culinary roots, he took a job at Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille, where he worked as bartender and then bar manager before “drifting back into the kitchen.” And he loved it.
“The corporate structure and training at Harry’s was impeccable,” he says. “I’d never been in a commercial kitchen before and it was so different. I got to work with an amazing and talented creole chef. Harry’s is where I really got my kitchen skills.”
Bruce eventually left Harry’s to take care of his aging parents, who lived in Dixieland, full time. It’s a decision he’s very glad he made. “My father died in one day - in my arms - and I was so happy to have had that time with him before his death. We had conversations we were never able to have when I was growing up.”
Still, he missed working. And that’s when he says divine intervention stepped in.
“I was still taking care of my mother, who suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease. I happened to be shopping at Publix one day and saw a woman bent over the dry ice container. I recognized her immediately, although I really don’t know how or why. We had known each other through the years, but there was no reason why I should have run into her there.”
That woman was local caterer Tina Calhoon, who had just opened Fresco’s restaurant.
“What are you doing these days?” she asked him.
“Looking for a job.”
“Come talk to me Monday,” she said.
And just like that he joined the kitchen staff at Fresco’s. “It clicked right away,” Bruce said. “I had the opportunity to do off-the-cuff stuff: Appetizers, desserts, specialties. Tina was the most on-point, tremendous caterer. There’s no way I could do my job now without learning from her first.”
After a while he was running Fresco’s assisting Tina in her catering business - including all of the special events at All Saints’ - where he coordinated his work with Church Administrator, Lora Karr.
But after three years he found himself at a crossroads. “My mother passed away earlier this year, my house burned down and I broke my arm. It was a horrible situation,” he says. He left Fresco’s, thinking he would move to North Carolina and “just chill.” But again, he credits divine intervention for steering him in another direction.
“Lora started calling me when she learned I left Fresco’s, and she continued to do so - even though I wasn’t in the mood to talk about a new job,” he said. But she persisted.
“The church reached out to me in a way that no one has ever done. They called me and called me until I finally went in to talk to talk to them.”
And when he did, he found the answer to a prayer.
“Never in my life have I had that kind of reception. All my life I prayed for a place where I really felt I belonged. I prayed, ‘Please put me somewhere where I should be.’”
And that place was All Saints’. “I’ve never met a kinder group of people. From the moment I walked in I thought, ‘I really like being here. I would like to work here.’”
A month after beginning his work here, he officially became a church member.
Bruce is excited and motivated to make his food ministry at All Saints’ the best it can be. “I would like to increase attendance at breakfast (served Sunday mornings), lunch (served Wednesdays after the noon service and on occasional Sundays after the 10:50 a.m. service) and dinner (served Wednesdays before the 6 p.m. service).”
Another goal of his is to increase his volunteer base.
“We have fabulous cooks here and I enjoy their input. I would love to find more volunteers for the kitchen and also to reach out to youth.”
Think of it as a cooking lesson, Bruce says.
“Do you want to know how to make bread? Or gravy? Or muffins? Come and volunteer in the kitchen and you can watch and learn. Cooking is so simple, it really is.”
Thinking back to his childhood, Bruce can’t help but remember a nightly ritual of his mother’s: “Growing up my mom was the church mom at Lakeside Baptist Church and kept a prayer list. She prayed for the people on that list every night. And 100 percent of the time my name was first. She would be so happy now.”