Jennifer Perillo

Heaven Has a New Angel

In the eight years of Wannabe TV Chef this is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written.  Ever.

When I read the posts on the blogs of some of my favorite food writers, many of whom are good friends, I am struck by how much of their personal lives they put into writing.  I, by design, have never done a lot of that.  Perhaps it is a male thing, perhaps it is humility.  I don’t know.

But this must be written.

With few exceptions everyone loves their mother.  They think she is the greatest woman who ever lived.  I am no exception.  I am not alone in admiring my mother.  Everyone, and I mean everyone who has ever met her has admired and loved her.

Like most boys my father has always been my hero.  It just so happens that my father/hero is also a genuine hero, a professional hero if you will.  In four years with the Air Force and 36 years as a deputy sheriff he did things that saved lives and helped those in need.

In 1991 I made the decision to drop everything and move to Nashville to try my hand at the music business.  My mother told me once that she thought that was the bravest thing she’d ever seen anyone do.  Through the music years, the writing years, the chef years and even the wannabe TV chef thing my mother has rooted for me.  My mother has always been my biggest fan.

My last photo with my mother.As I write this my mother is lying in a hospital.  The end is inevitable it’s just a question of when.  It could be days; it could weeks; it could be hours.  Every time the Droid chirps my heart breaks a little more.  I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve had to pause to cry just writing this post.

You want to know what uncomfortable looks like?  Picture a 300 pound Southern man sobbing like a baby.  That’s my life the last 48 hours.

In my 2010 cookbook Third Coast Cuisine I included my mother’s biscuit recipe.  Her biscuits were always so perfect for digging through gravy as they had a crunchy crust but a soft inside – I call them Soppin’ Biscuits.  I would feel morose asking you to buy the book to try them so I will include the recipe below for free.

So yes, my heart is shattered but I can’t complain.  This is as good as losing a loved one ever gets.  My mother turned 78 in November, celebrated her 57th wedding anniversary just last week.  She and my father loved and raised four children, two grand children and two great grand children.  She’s earned her rest.

Still it hurts so much.  As I left the hospital tonight it dawned on me that it was the same building that she had brought me into the world.  My life started in that building and her life ends there.  Man, that sucks.  Everything about this sucks.

Tonight we said our goodbyes.  Many people don’t get that chance.  We need look no further in the food writing world than everyone’s dear friend Jennifer Perillo who suddenly and tragically lost the love of her life this past fall.  Jennifer and Mikey’s story wasn’t done yet but life is like that sometimes.

So as I sit here, my heart breaking more with each new tick of the clock, I feel selfish for feeling this sad.  I’ve had it good.  Embarrassingly good.  I know that my mother is going to be with our Lord and Savior.  I was never raised to be a judgmental Christian, an in your face Christian.  I was raised to be Christ-like.  To love everyone and to care about them without judging.

My mother deserves a tribute but it’s not her nature to want one.  So I will do what I know she would want.  My mother never heard of Jennifer and Mikey but if she had she would want to help Jenny and her girls.  So please visit Bloggers Without Borders to contribute to A Fund for Jennie.

Tonight I got to tell my mother goodbye.  I got to tell her that I love her; that I’ve always loved her.  I was able to tell her how much she has meant to me.  I told her that I was happy for her.  She gets to go be with her father and with Jesus.  She told me that she is going to be an angel.

I told her that she has always been one.

Shirley’s Soppin’ Biscuits
Recipe Type: Side
Author: My mom
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Total time: 30 mins
Serves: 8
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup lard or shortening
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt (optional)
  1. Preheat an oven to 450° F.
  2. In a large bowl sift the flour with salt (if using) then make a well in the center.
  3. Add the lard and mix until you have pea sized crumbles in the dough.
  4. Then fold in the buttermilk and knead until a large dough ball forms, no more than 30 seconds*.
  5. The dough should be soft and pliable but not sticky. Discard any remaining flour in the bowl.
  6. Separate the dough ball into 1” to 1½” balls and then flatten to form patties.
  7. Place the patties in a backing pan or iron skillet, brush tops with melted butter and bake for 20 minutes or until browned.

* Over kneading biscuit dough releases excess gluten from the flour and will make the biscuits tough to chew.

“Food Is Too Love” or “Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey”

There is more to food than just fuel for the body.  It is history, memories and despite what Jenny Craig may tell you food is love.  I have witnessed this in unbelievable exposition this past week.

Last weekend I saw this tweet by fellow food blogger Jennifer Perillo:

He’s gone. Any my heart is shattered in a million pieces.

I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant but something inside me was hurting.  Soon enough word spread across the food blogosphere that Jennifer’s husband Mikey had died suddenly of a heart attack.  My gut was right.

I’ve never met Jennifer in person.  We’ve tweeted back and forth a few times but that’s it for personal contact.  But I have read her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen and her work for Food52.  Because of that I was aware of Mikey and his importance in her life.  I don’t know what other successes Mikey had in his brief life but I know that he married his high school sweetheart, fathered two beautiful daughters and created a happy home for all.  That’s about as successful as a man can ever hope to be.

Like every other food blogger I am heartbroken at her loss.  With tears welling in my big ol’ Southern boy eyes I watched a video Jennie posted on her site of Mikey dancing with one of his precious daughters, the post was entitled “One Last Dance.”

I know, right?

There are many in our circle and all of us are driven by a passion for food but to the unindoctrinated it must seem like a quirky obsession based solely on tasting something yummy.  But food is so much more than that.  It is about friendship and tradition and family and as cliche as it may sound, love.  No matter our cultural, political, spiritual or ethnic differences we all have to eat.  It is one of the few common bonds among all mankind.

I saw the absolute best of what this passion can provide this week.  Food blogger after food blogger after food blogger took to their laptops to lift Jennie’s spirits, to support her and her family and to share their memories of Mikey.  Foodies from around the world are signing up to send the Perillo family homemade meals spread out evenly over the next year so they don’t all come at once.  That’s powerful stuff but it doesn’t end there.

TasteSpotting Peanut Butter Pies for MikeyRemembering Mikey Perillo has gone viral.  On the day Mikey was laid to rest, the food porn site TasteSpotting dedicated the entire front page of their site to pictures of Mikey’s favorite dessert, Peanut Butter Pie, 35 photos in all.  A special Facebook page has been set up just so everyone can share their Peanut Butter Pie recipes, memories and share in a virtual group hug.  In doing research for my review of Sugar High I ventured to the Food Network site.  In the sidebar on the right is a widget that lists the day’s “Recently Commented On” posts on the FN site.  Four of the top 5 included the words “Peanut Butter Pie.”  I clicked on the link and found this:

Food Network Peanut Butter Pie For MikeyThis post is dedicated to our fellow food blogger Jennifer Perillo, of In Jennie’s Kitchen. Her husband died suddenly and Jennie’s request of the world was to make a peanut butter pie to give to someone you love. Peanut Butter Pie was Mikey’s favorite and in his honor, Food Network is sharing one of our favorite recipes with you.

My heart is saddened for a family that by all rights I have never met but in the ether of the universe I consider myself a part of.  When fate pricks one of us we all bleed.  That, my friends, is the power of love as manifested, at least this time, through food.

As I step outside right now to enjoy the Perseid Meteor Shower I know my thoughts will wander.  I’ll think of Mikey gone so soon and of the wife and children now without their rock.  I’ll think of another food blogger, Heather of Heather in SF who recently lost her father.  I’ll think of the mortality of those I love and how I should let them know I love them while I can still see their face light up at hearing those magical words.  And maybe we’ll share a slice of Peanut Butter Pie, for Mikey.

Peanut Butter Pie for Mikey
Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 2 hours
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 3 hours
Serves: 6
  • 1 ready-made chocolate cookie (Oreo) pie crust
  • 1 pint dark chocolate ice cream
  • 1 pint peanut butter ice cream
  • Mini marshmallows to cover the top
  1. Set chocolate ice cream out for 45 minutes to an hour, long enough to soften partially.
  2. With a spoon spread roughly half of the pint into the bottom of the pie crust. Place the pie into the freezer and do what you want with the remaining chocolate ice cream. Move the peanut butter ice cream from the freezer to a counter.
  3. After 45 minutes to an hour the pie should been frozen and the peanut butter ice cream softened. Layer half the pint of peanut butter ice cream on top of the frozen chocolate ice cream and return to freezer for at least one hour.
  4. When you are ready to serve top the pie with enough marshmallows to cover the pie.
  5. Taking a chef’s torch or using your oven’s broiler setting toast the marshmallows to taste.
  6. Slice and eat.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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