David Bittle’s passion to serve others still beats strongly as he pursues his dream of becoming a chef. Bittle retired from the Waxahachie Police Department after 35 years in law enforcement earlier this year and is learning from some of the country’s best chefs at the Culinary School of Fort Worth.
The desire to cook started at a young age and found a place in Bittle’s life where he continued to cook for family, friends and his fellow officers.
“My mom would stay at home and she would cook all of the time,” Bittle said. “She made really good food and that made me happy. So, I thought If I could do that, I could make other people happy. Everybody had got to eat.
“I found out that I enjoyed cooking to where it was my stress relief,” he said. “It was my happy place. When I would come off a 12-hour shift, I would come home and immediately start cooking. Everything would go away except for what I was doing.”
When he retired, Bittle said he was going to culinary school just to acquire the knowledge that he was lacking. Now he wants to go further and do more to put that knowledge to use in serving others.
“I knew that I was good at cooking but I knew that there was a lot that I didn’t know,” he said. “So that was kind of the plan to get the information. Well, as time progressed and my interest continued, I decided that I wanted to do something with it. Either a food truck, a restaurant or catering. Something.
“I don’t think it was a sudden change of heart,” he said. “I think my interests continued to grow over the years. I decided that I didn’t just want to have the knowledge but to make it another career where I would give people quality food.”
Bittle shared how, when he put on the chef uniform, there was a physical realization he had moved on from one career to another. While the uniforms changed, Bittle knew, however, he was still going to serve people, just in a different way.
“I think that boils down to my mom,” Bittle said. “She had a servant’s heart. She was always helping other people. I just kind of inherited that servant’s heart from her. I am one of those guys that want to do for everybody else. I want to make sure that everyone else eats first and everyone else gets taken care of first.
“One of the things that moved me toward a professional career in cooking was that I would cook a lot for the shift,” he said. “I would cook breakfast on the Sunday mornings that we would work. I enjoyed doing that. Of course, I would enter all of the contests that we would have. I did really well at those and that would continue the spark and fan the flame for cooking.”
Bittle said attending culinary school has helped him become more organized in the kitchen, which has resulted in a better final product.
“I work in a small house in a small kitchen,” he said. “So, if I need something while I am cooking, I walk two or three steps over and grab it. In a commercial kitchen, you might have to walk 20 or 30 steps to a walk-in refrigerator or a pantry to get your stuff. So, you are wasting time in having to go so far.
“What they teach you is to have everything ready,” he said. “You do a precook sheet where you need all of your ingredients and the equipment that you need. You measure everything out and you portion everything out. So, when you get at your workstation, you can complete your meal (in a timely manner) and you’re not having to walk all over the place. it is more efficient that way and you keep an eye on your food better that way and it takes less time.”
Bittle said there are times in class when he feels “very confident” about what he is doing in the kitchen. However, there are other times, as he’s learning something new, Bittle said he feels like a rookie. Over time, however, experience replaces that doubt and anxiety, with Bittle noting that the age range in his class is from 19 to 54 years old.
Chefs making up the staff of the Culinary School of Fort Worth have a wide range of experience and look to get the best out of their students daily, Bittle said, noting that the experienced staff also helps to build confidence.
“All of the instructors at the culinary school of Fort Worth have a lot of experience in different parts of the industry,” Bittle said. “Some of them have worked at very high-end restaurants. Some of them have gone to France and Italy to train. Some were in the military as culinary specialists so they have a different view of things.
“They are very approachable,” Bittle said of the chefs. “Their vision is to make us the best chefs that we can be because we are going to be out in the industry soon and they don’t want to put out anything that is inferior. Their goal is to get us through the programs the best that we can.”
Bittle said he’s had support from family and friends as he’s traveled along this path – and joked how they’ve all volunteered to test any of the food he cooks during school and after he graduates from in August.
While he’s uncertain of the final destination where this new career will lead him, he said he continues to look for inspiration at school and around him.