At first glace, Catherine Tucker’s new gadget doesn’t look like a useful kitchen tool. It looks like a metal cone, or the top of a missile, or maybe something the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” would wear.
In reality, it’s carefully designed to provide a better cooking surface and presentation for dates and other appetizers.
For Tucker, it was her dates wrapped in bacon, a frequent hit at parties, that needed to be prepared differently.
“I was getting tired of cooking those on a sheet tray and transferring them to a platter,” she said.
Now she has a different system altogether.
She invented the Hot Date Tree, a stainless steel cone with small holes that are a perfect fit for anything an inspired cook can put on a toothpick. Tucker cooks the dates and displays them for eating using the same device.
She now sells it to the public as well, both on her own website and online retailer Amazon.com.
Tucker, who was a postal worker in Lutz and has lived in the area for more than 35 years, said that her Hot Date Tree has uses that go beyond its name, or even appetizers.
It’s a suspension steamer that allows a host to cook shrimp or vegetables using the provided skewers. It’s also a vertical chicken roaster, which keeps the meat away from the grease and fat that accumulates in a pan.
Having multiple uses is an important characteristic for her invention. One of her cooking idols, television star Alton Brown, prefers cooking devices that serve multiple purposes, she said.
As a self-described “foodie,” Tucker wants to market something that would please some of the famous culinary people she’s met over the years, such as Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Julia Child. She even keeps photos of them in her kitchen, where she not only cooks, but also found the inspiration to create the Hot Date Tree.
Even though she created the device a year ago, it’s a new business for her.
Just a couple of months after she received her first shipment of Hot Date Trees, Tucker suffered a serious accident when the cable snapped in her home elevator, and she fell the length of one floor.
She realizes the injuries could have been life-threatening.
Still, she shattered several bones, spent two months in the hospital, and weeks afterward in a nursing home and rehabilitation.
Nearly a year later, she still attends therapy several times a week, and uses a wheelchair, walker or cane to get by.
The recovery process has been a difficult one, especially for a woman who was an active letter carrier and used to restore homes as well. Now, even basic tasks like getting around the house can be a challenge.
“I’m just trying to walk. Simple things like that,” Tucker said.
Now that she’s improving and can drive again, she’s trying to focus on marketing her invention.
Starting a business can be expensive, with thousands spent on inventory and pursuing the necessary patent.
But, the end result is a device that not only makes life easier when she creates and displays her bacon-wrapped dates, but also could be the beginning of a valuable business.
It’s a device that shows off her creativity, and she hopes it would make her cooking heroes proud.
“It makes me feel like Julia Child, on the next wall over there, is looking over me,” Tucker said.
The Hot Date Tree retails for $29.95 and includes two skewers. For more information, visit HotDateTree.com, or contact Tucker at (813) 245-3968.
By Michael Murillo
Published April 27, 2016