Perfect Caper chef helped put Punta Gorda on culinary map
Jeanie Roland seemed to take the Southwest Florida restaurant scene by surprise when she was named a 2008 semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation Award.
What was a chef of such note doing in Punta Gorda? As her subsequent 2009 and 2010 nominations as best chef in the South further proved, she was cooking remarkable food with seasonal and local ingredientsts and unusual flavor combinations at The Perfect Caper. Still, to be considered in the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscars — where metropolitan restaurants dominate the field — is quite an accomplishment for a chef far from a major market.
“I am still very proud of my nominations and humbled by the recognition,” she says.
Of course, Ms. Roland, 45, didn’t come out of nowhere. She has more than 20 years of restaurant experience. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, she worked her way through kitchens as a sous chef and sometimes pastry chef in Litchfield, Conn., Westerly, R.I., and Newport Beach, Calif., before landing in Charlotte County with her husband and business partner, James. They opened The Perfect Caper in 2002.
bread Daily bread: Chef Jeanie Roland makes fresh daily for her customers at The Perfect Caper.
KATHY GREY / FLORIDA WEEKLY Who were your early cooking inspirations?
My earliest inspirations were my grandmother and my mother. Both women were incredible cooks and emphasized the using of fresh vegetables and fruit. My grandma had a fabulous garden and it was a highlight of my childhood to help her harvest and cook the treasures of the garden.
With fried chicken and grits on The Perfect Caper menu, I’m guessing you were born in the South. Where did you grow up and did that have any influence on your cooking?
I grew up in Waterbury, Conn., and it was a very ethnically diverse city. This gave me a love for different types of foods as well as the desire to source out the right ingredients for my dishes. We would travel to all corners of my town to get the best bread, sausage, fish to cook and never thought anything about going to several stores for their particular specialty. The chicken and grits is my mother’s fried chicken recipe with my own Southern twist.
When did you realize you wanted to become a professional chef?
As soon as I was able to get in the kitchen and cook I knew I wanted cooking to be the focus of my life.
How would you describe your signature cooking style?
I feel as a chef I am constantly evolving, and my style evolves as well.
Female chefs are outnumbered by men in American restaurant kitchens. Did being a woman make things more challenging when you worked in other restaurants? How?
Yes, it is a challenge working in an industry dominated by males. Over the years, I have not personally experienced much difficulty. I am a strong team member in any kitchen I have worked, not only “keeping up” with the guys but (sur)passing them. My skill level speaks volumes and this earns respect in most kitchens.
What’s your home kitchen like? Do you have top-of-the-line, professional-level tools and appliances?
Yes, I do have a great home kitchen. We have a Wolf 6-burner with double ovens — this is all I need, along with good stainless steel pans, good knives and my hands.
When you need comfort food, what do you reach for?
My comfort food depends on my mood, but usually involves cheese!
What’s your favorite quick meal at home?
I usually cook on my days off, too, and we like to have a nice meal. For a fast late-night bite, we usually have a pizza with fresh dough from our bread at the restaurant, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella. That with some organic arugula with 12-year-old balsamic is just perfect.
Do you ever get to eat out at other restaurants? Are there any you particularly like?
I love to dine when we travel to the Northeast and visit Boston and New York City. We just ate at No. 9 Park in Boston, and it was incredible. My favorite in NYC is Eleven Madison Park. The chef, Daniel Humm, is an amazing talent.
Which food trends do you like or dislike?
I think all the current emphasis on food is fantastic. There will always be something new and hot for a while and usually they fizz out. I cook as I like to eat, and do not get too into the latest trendy wave.
What ingredient do you think is overused?
I think sometimes chefs use too much of everything. I feel the food itself should be allowed to shine and too much of anything will detract from the main ingredient.
What do you think people should eat more of ?
I think people should eat more fresh, unprocessed foods. This would benefit our health and environment immensely.
Do you have any food aversions you can’t get over?
I cook and eat most everything.
What would you want to eat for your last meal?
My last meal would be my Thanksgiving dinner.
When not making food or talking about food or planning menus, what are you doing?
When I am not cooking, I am sleeping.
If you could change something about the local restaurant scene, what would it be?
I feel our city has a vibrant dining scene that is a great asset to the surrounding community and has created a dining destination. Why change that? ¦
in the know
The Perfect Caper, 121 E. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda; 505-9009
Here is a sampling of the menu:
. Fresh New England pecan-crusted oysters
with tomatillo and sweet pepper relish, blood
orange and sweet chili aioli.
.Toasted brioche with tomato apple jam, veal
mayo, bacon and pan-seared foie gras .
. Chicken liver pâté with mission fig vidalia
onion relish, pear chutney, caper berries.
. Crispy confit of duck and garlic marinated
duck breast with wilted organic Swiss chard,
. Chipotle-lime Infused mahi-mahi with grilled
. House-made linguine with fried organic egg,
hen of the woods mushrooms and white
. Buttermilk fried chicken breast with cheddar
grits, organic Swiss chard, sweet corn sauce
. Grilled prawns with green curry and Bombay
. Braised fricassee of rabbit with gnocchi, summer peas, mushrooms and crispy rabbit leg.
. Pan-seared spiced rack of lamb with roasted
fingerling potatoes and oil-cured olives.
. Grilled Wagyu New York strip with wild mushrooms, white truffle oil and pommes frites.