The kitchen is Angela Perkins’ happy place.
Recently, that place was the Culinary Vegetable Institute kitchen, where Chef Jamie Simpson and his kitchen staff welcomed Perkins to join them as Chef for a Day. Perkins spent a full day prepping and cooking for the Vegetable Showcase dinner featuring summer squash on June 15.
At 60, the former NICU nurse-turned-bed and breakfast proprietor radiates pure joy expressing how she feels about life in the kitchen. “The kitchen is a sanctuary for me,” said the sprightly, effervescent chef. “When I’m having a bad day, I bake.”
Perkins and her husband Ken Swickard are owners of Poggio Amorelli B&B in North Canton, Ohio. (They jokingly call it a “DBB” because they also serve dinner). Running a bed and breakfast is a second career for both of them. Swickard, who has cooking skills of his own, joined his wife in the Culinary Vegetable Institute kitchen, pitching in wherever he could help. “When we first got married, Ken did most of the cooking,” Perkins said.
Perkins said Chef Jamie and his culinary team of Dario Torres and Tristan Acevedo made her feel like “part of the family” from the start, and that she hit the ground running. “They’ve given me free reign,” she said. She said she was as impressed with Chef Jamie’s team as much as she was the farm-fresh vegetables. “They respect each thing they touch, each individual vegetable, like each one has a soul,” she said, “And it turns into this beautiful orchestra.”
Chef Jamie’s no waste, root to tip policy made a big impression, as well. “It’s a whole plant. You can incorporate the whole plant,” she said, adding that food waste is heartbreaking for her because “so many people are hungry.”
It’s the Little Things
Although it’s an unlikely comparison, Perkins said her former experience as a NICU nurse translates seamlessly into the kitchen. “I guess I transitioned the care I took with babies, some no bigger than my hand, to the food I cook. They’re both so delicate.”
Word of Mouth
Even though the Culinary Vegetable Institute is less than two hours away from North Canton, Perkins said, “I had no idea this place existed!”
Perkins said she first heard about the Culinary Vegetable from celebrity Chef Lee Anne Wong. Chef Wong visited in 2008 and again in 2012, when she demonstrated, ironically, the many uses for summer squash. Perkins said she also has visited Chef Wong in the kitchen of her Hawaii restaurant, Koko Head Café.
And on the subject of squash, Perkins said she enjoys incorporating it into her cuisine because “It’s very versatile. You can transform it,” she said. “It can be incorporated in so many different ways all in one dish – sweet, savory, and it can stand on its own.”
Student of Life
Though Perkins has no formal training, she has intentionally choreographed her own learning journey by collecting culinary experiences that feed her hungry and curious mind. “Inspiration is everywhere,” she said. “I’m watching, and as I’m watching I’m learning.”
“She’s not afraid to say ‘I don’t know. Teach me,’” said Swickard.
Spending time with other chefs in their own kitchens is a prime example. Besides Chef Wong, Perkins has also cooked with Chef Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen team during auditions for Master Chef in 2015. (She finished in the top 80 contestants.)
She’s learned from conversations with guests at her B&B, as well. “We get people from all over the world,” she said. She’s learned from “traveling Europe and seeing what they do.” (Poggio Amorelli is named for a wine estate in Tuscany, where the couple spent a romantic visit.)
And of course, she frequently hits the Internet. “I’m a YouTube queen!” she said.
Stroke of Luck
Perkins said she is particularly grateful for a fleeting social media connection with traveling chef and television host Anthony Bourdain just a few months before his recent untimely death.
“He pinged me,” she said. “I thought it was a joke. He gave me solid advice for where I am in my career. He said it’s never too late to start something.”
Although she never met Bourdain in person, she said their online connection had a huge impact. She said she was devastated by the news of Bourdain’s death, but considers herself lucky to have had the exchange, however brief.
“Bourdain and Lee Ann Wong are the reason she’s here,” Chef Jamie said.
Take Me to Church
Even though her hands do most of the work in the kitchen, Perkins said cooking is more of a religious experience for her. “When I prepare something, it’s a gift from my soul,” she said. “Oh my gosh! I’m in my element!”
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