Finding Zen in Cooking: The Road Leads to Culinary School—and Home | Food

Cooking has had a huge impact on Tyler Shields’ life.

As well as cancer as a teenager.

Growing up in a household with a single mother who worked outside the home, Shields says he started preparing meals for his family early.

“I would make spaghetti or sloppy cakes or something easy enough that a 6-, 7-, 8-year-old could make so I could feed my little sister,” he recalls. “The first thing my mom taught me was how to brown a hamburger until it was no longer pink. You add sauce and you’re done.

He eventually went to live with his father and entered the culinary program at the career and technical center where he lived in Saginaw.

“It kind of opened my eyes to what cooking was,” he says. “It helped me understand that it’s not ‘Chopped,’ it’s not ‘Chef.’ It’s a hard job that you have to love every day or you won’t make it.”

Shields entered cooking competitions and after graduating high school got the bug to go to culinary school.

“Once I got into culinary school, I loved it,” said Shields, 28, who lives in Messick.

Working in restaurants to help pay for tuition, he eventually began working as a sous chef. But he found he didn’t care for the restaurant job – he didn’t feel he could be creative enough.

“Most places, if you’re not the chef … it’s ‘Do this, do that,'” he says.

He now works as a personal banker for Fifth Third in Traverse City. He still enjoys the local food scene—“Traverse City is a food Mecca,” he says—and has channeled his passion for cooking into his own home and kitchen.

“I love the fact that it’s the absolute base level of creation—cooking is the base level of creating something,” he says. “You take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and you make something amazing.

“I’m not a chef who does spectacular things, but some recipes I have to tinker with, I do. And a few recipes I come up with. I like to MacGyver cooking: I have this and that and see what I can do with it.”

His favorite ingredients include basil, cumin, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes.

“Garlic is one of my big favorites,” he says. “Cumin is one of those things that spices up everything good. You can put some in your chicken, your guac, in your cereal if you want – just kidding about the cereal.

He and his wife Veronica enjoy cooking together.

“We’ve been trying to get more inventive lately,” Shields explains.

By subscribing to an affordable meal kit company, EveryPlate, they use the ingredients as a base to come up with their own versions of recommended meals.

“It’s cheaper than groceries,” he says. “We get three meals a week.

“We choose them, but when we do them … we’ll start changing from there.”

He also likes to make chicken enchiladas and an easy pasta carbonara recipe. Using cream cheese instead of more traditional ingredients is one of his favorites.

Meanwhile, he is working on a book that is the result of a diagnosis of brain cancer at the age of 16. At the time, that meant extensive brain surgery, weeks in the hospital—a year and a half off his life, though he still graduated high school on time. Titled ‘A Cracked Coconut Memoir’, it aims to help people of all ages facing cancer. The book is in process on Amazon, he said, and is not yet available for purchase.

“It’s going to be very much to … help people going through cancer and find meaning in the bad things in the world, and if nothing else, just laugh,” he says. “There are quite a few stories about my wacky family.”

One of the things that kept him going through this difficult time was cooking.

“When I was going through radiation, I would go through classes at a culinary tech center and make recipes and bring them to the radiation patients and the chemotherapy patients who were there with me — cakes, muffins, cookies, pasta and chicken dishes,” he recalls. “I may not have been hungry, but some of them were. I just like to make people happy.”

He also found cooking in the evenings therapeutic.

“Unless I wasn’t feeling well — which with radiation, a lot of nights you’re not feeling well — I was at home cooking,” he says. “It was my Zen time.”

Linguine Carbonara

1 chicken breast, cut into butterfly pieces




sage tea

Salt pepper

3 T. butter

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Roma tomatoes, diced

Dash cumin (because he loves cumin)

4 T. cream cheese

1 lb. linguini

Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, parsley, and sage. Fry it in a pan in olive oil, turning until cooked. Let rest for a few minutes and then slice.

In a separate pan, melt the butter. Add and sauté the garlic. Add the diced tomatoes and cumin, stirring. Add the cream cheese with a little pasta water, stirring. Then add ½ cup grated parmesan cheese to the sauce. Mix the chicken and pour the sauce over the cooked pasta. Finish with grated or grated parmesan.

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