A true cowgirl (read to the end), Cheri Cooper, Executive chef for College Chefs, is one busy chef. From starting her own business to finding her home within a Greek fraternity, Chef Cheri puts her heart and soul into her cooking.
Cheri was only four years old when she started cooking and it was at the side of her Grammy. “She was a very accomplished chef,” she says with confidence. She explains that her Grammy was home-taught and was very creative. She was even making Chinese food in the ‘60s which was not something common. “Not many people were eating Chinese food then, and here she was cooking it,” she says with a laugh. She went on and bought a laundromat and The Whip, an old-town ice cream shop with her husband, Dave. Since owning laundromats was in the family, Cheri decided to buy one. Although, the laundromat did not last very long. Since food was doing so well at The Whip, she tore out the laundromat and made it into a restaurant named Coop’s. She was also the general contractor on the building of Coop’s. With Cheri’s restaurant, Coop’s and The Whip, she dove in to the restaurant industry. Cheri served southern-comfort foods at Coop’s and made sure to have variety. “There were different meal specials every day,” she says. Cheri even made all the deserts homemade. The award-winning restaurant always had a standing room on Friday and Saturday nights.
A Rewarding Opportunity
After working long, hard hours for eight years, Cheri decided to sell the successful business. She then went on to work as an Executive Chef at the Waterhouse. Once she left the Waterhouse, she joked with her husband’s cousin who had the perfect job, according to Cheri. It was not long until Cheri had the same perfect job with College Chefs. “It was a dream job for me,” she says. For a grandmother who loves time with her grandkids and likes to travel--it was perfect for her. She also loves the challenge as well of trying new things. “This is the perfect job for any chef who loves to cook,” she says. She finds cooking for her boys, as she calls them, very rewarding.
Bringing her southern-comfort food to the fraternity, the boys love her homemade desserts. They love her bread pudding and her Oreo cream pie. She mentions that having fresh cookies goes a long way too. “It gives them a sense of home,” she says. She begins to tell a story of a young man walking home from school. While walking home he smelled something good and he knew it was Chef Cheri’s cooking. He mentioned to her that it reminded him of home. “Having an 18-year-old boy tell you that--it’s really awesome,” she says. She believes that having that experience of home-cooked foods and fresh ingredients cooked daily is what College Chefs is all about. Chef Cheri loves cooking for her boys and College Chefs so much, she has turned down other job opportunities. “I believe that working at College Chefs, I am making a difference in someone’s life,” she says with compassion. In fact, she shared one last story, maybe one of the most meaningful ones yet. One of the boys in her fraternity lost his father a couple years ago and was having a hard time. He came into the kitchen one day and hugged her. Calling her Chavez, a nickname he gave her, he mentioned that he could not imagine school without her. He told Chavez that he would remember her for the rest of his life. Cheri goes on to explain that because of these great moments, she will work with College Chefs until she retires. She asks, “Where can you go and get that kind of feedback?” It means a lot to the boys that you give them a sense of family, according to Cheri. “I am thankful to be their chef,” she says.
A Bustling Year Ahead
The future of cooking for her boys looks busy for Cheri. This coming school year she will be doing things a little bit different. They will be doing international cooking. Once a month they will have a big dinner from different places around the world. They will even decorate the dining room accordingly.
When Cheri is not busy cooking for her boys she is spending lots of time traveling, running her catering business and renovating her new colonial home. She also enjoys her horses. “I used to rodeo,” she laughs. A rodeo rider at the World Championships in 1993 and a qualifier for the 1994 champs, Chef Cheri still makes time to stick to her cowgirl roots.
By Ashley Skoczylas