BUCKHANNON, W.Va. -- "Chef Bear" Ullman credits his not particularly great powers of concentration for the handcrafted wooden bowls he turns when he isn't running the kitchen at C.J. Maggie's in Buckhannon.
"I'm ADD. I don't sleep a lot," he said. "I have young children, so after I work all day, I read them a story, my wife puts them to bed, I spend some time with her, and then leave. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. is my time to play when I go turn bowls."
In the day's waning hours, he heads to his sawdust-covered workshop, housed in an old warehouse, where he turns logs of wood into gorgeous bowls and platters. The wood's unique grains mark each of the warmly toned bowls as a one-of-a-kind piece.
He's up at 7 a.m. to prepare lunches for the children before they head to school and to resume his duties as director of operations at the restaurant.
His restaurant and hotel career of more than 30 years has stretched from Hawaii, where he was born and raised, to all over the country, most recently Washington and Colorado, where he began turning bowls.
"In the hospitality industry, hobbies are a good thing to have. They keep you out of trouble," he said. "I bought a lathe on a whim and loved it, especially the instant gratification you get when you turn a bowl."
The practicality of bowls and platters appeals to Ullman, who likes to use the graceful pieces to stage the food he creates. In his Walla Walla, Wash., restaurant, he regularly served meals family-style in his own large bowls to patrons at his chef's table.
Their beauty appealed to the customers, who often purchased the bowls or bartered coffee or wine for them.
"I never worried about bowl sales. I'd use it as a centerpiece on the chef's table. Six bottles of wine later, a bowl is sold," he said of the bartering process. "I never had to buy a bottle of wine."
Ullman makes his bowls from cherry, walnut and maple logs. Sizes range from small, suitable for mise en place use, to 30-inch bowls and platters. Most are in the 15- to 20-inch range. Prices vary from $150 to $800.