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Chesapeake chef learns to cook with one arm following massive stroke

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Posted at 5:02 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 08:16:35-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. – Chef Terence Tomlin’s food looks like a work of art on a plate, but his culinary masterpieces are proof of a miraculous recovery.

“It was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me,” said Tomlin, referring to the massive stroke he survived in 2017. “I don’t regret it.”

Tomlin was at the top of his game in 2017, serving as the executive chef at Hawthorne in Washington, D.C. While he indulged in the lavish lifestyle he worked decades to enjoy, he put his health on the back burner.

“[I had] the high-paying job, beautiful wife. You know, access to any kind of alcohol. Access to any kind of food that I wanted. Everything,” Tomlin said.

He world came crashing down in the middle of the Hawthorne kitchen in November 2017. His blood pressure was so high, he had a massive stroke, sending him plunging into the floor.

“I kept feeling like gravity was pulling me,” Tomlin recalls.

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He fell into a coma. When he woke up nearly a week later in the hospital, he couldn’t move his body – and he couldn’t remember how to cook.

“My kitchen was big and I would look at it and I would cry,” said Tomlin. “I was like, 'I don’t know what to do.'”

Tomlin said he also endured a difficult divorce in the year after his stroke. He became depressed, but his desire to create culinary masterpieces again lit a fire within him.

“My memory started coming back," said Tomlin, who watched YouTube videos to help recharge his memory. “[I told myself], 'You can still do it. You could still do it!'"

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Tomlin lost the use of much of the right side of his body, so he taught himself how to cook with his left hand – his non-dominant side. He still went on to win several national cooking competitions.

Now, he’s creating divine dining experiences for “Dinner with the Hortons,” a husband-and-wife team in Chesapeake. Together, the group curated nearly 200 private dining events during the pandemic.

Tomlin said he focuses on making sure his food his heart healthy, lower in sodium and loaded with love.

“Take care of yourself,” said Tomlin. “Don’t be like me where I have to repair my brain. Don't do things in excess. Do things in moderation.”

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Tomlin is still working on regaining the use of his right arm, and if that happens, he said the world better watch out.

“If it comes back […] it’s going to be a problem,” Tomlin joked.