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The Firefighting Chef

January 14, 2005—Going back to school at age fifty is no easy task. For Joseph Toth, though, it was the start of a new career.

New Direction

After twenty-five years as a paramedic and professional firefighter for the Oil City (Pa.) fire department, Toth retired and chose a new direction by enrolling in the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts, graduating in Spring 2004. “I’d been a firehouse cook anyway, and always enjoyed cooking,” he said. “I knew that from the time I took a chef’s class back in high school.” 

Joseph Toth

Joseph Toth

Toth lives in Oil City with Diane, his wife of thirty-one years. They have a son, 28, who is an Army staff sergeant and just got back from Iraq; a daughter, 27, who is married and living in Baltimore, working as a pharmaceutical doctor at the Sinai Medical Center; and a daughter, 20, who is in the Army reserve and driving a petroleum truck in Iraq.

In addition to firefighting, Toth also worked part-time at Sears for sixteen years and took his summers off of work to coach high school varsity soccer for twelve years. He learned how to play soccer when he was stationed in Germany with the military police.

Starting classes at the academy wasn’t easy. “The first three weeks were the hardest,” he said. “There was kind of a panic about going back to school. The fear of failure made me buckle down some more, though, and by summer I was having fun.”

After a year of studies at the IUP Academy of Culinary Arts and an externship at the Yellow Dog Lantern restaurant in Oil City, Toth is now an assistant manager at a new Bob Evans restaurant. “When I was hired, I told them I wanted something stable and not too hectic,” he said. “They put me back in the kitchen cooking. After about three months, they asked if I wanted to join their management program.”

Toth noted that he is older than the whole management staff. His many years in the town resulted in a lot of customers asking where they know him from. “I love interacting with the customers,” he said. “The other managers are from the Pittsburgh area and are not used to knowing the people so well.”

Toth rented a one-room apartment in Punxsutawney for his year of studies, only taking the hour-and-a-half drive home on weekends. “My wife was very supportive,” he said. “But she’s real happy now that I’m coming home in the evenings.”