Aspiring Bend Chef Uses Cooking to Cope

Two Parents Stricken by Cancer Changed Career Path

BEND, Ore. - On his way to becoming a chef, this wasn't supposed to happen to 28-year-old Justin Tomomatsu.

Two years ago, grim news for both his parents.

"They both developed cancer at the same time," Tomomatsu explained. "Two weeks apart -- first my mother with pancreatic cancer and then my dad with esophagus cancer."

Pushing aside his dream to be a landscape architect, Justin grabbed a frying pan and became his' parents personal chef.

"One needed very low-fat content in their food and healthier, while the other needed a lot of fat and had to be really soft," he added. "So then I had to experiment with this and that and started waking up thinking, 'Okay, what am I going to cook today?'"

Justin did his homework, pouring through cookbooks and reading about what different types of cancers needed to help make sure they were getting the right nutrition.

"They started saying, 'Oh these are the best clams I've ever had!' So i thought, 'Maybe I do have a little talent for it, and maybe I can make a career out of this.'"

Cooking became an outlet for Justin -- a way to cope.

"If I didn't have cooking, I would have gone mentally insane, with all the hospitals and the chemo and all the surgeries they were going through," Tomomatsu said.

He's now a full time student at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland and currently interning with Chef Ramsey Hamdan at Joolz in downtown Bend.

His next step: Starting a family restaurant with his younger brother.

"Hopefully me and him will be able to do something together with a family business," he said. "And if mom and dad are okay too, then they can help out as well."

After removing a tumor, Justin's mom is doing better, but his dad just relapsed.

But like any good chef, Justin will tell you his secret ingredient is love.

"I want to get to the point where I can take care of them and have them be a part of this industry," he said. "That would be the best thing ever."

Tomomatsu will be in Bend interning with Joolz for a few more months before heading back to Portland to finish up his culinary degree.

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