For the love of food
Sherri Gregersen remembers her first time cooking. She was 8 years old, and her family was floored.
After spending hours in the kitchen, Gregersen served her first from-scratch item to such positive response she was afloat with joy.
Although she doesn’t remember what she made — pudding, maybe? — her family’s reaction showed her how good food could affect the people eating it. She belonged in a kitchen.
“That there was the hook, line and sinker,” Gregersen said.
For the past 45 years, Gregersen has made people happy with food, whether she was cooking in a frilly apron in Idaho or prepping food in an embroidered white chef’s jacket in Mesa County.
Either way, Gregersen’s culinary journey from 4-H baker to private chef has been anything but bland.
“I love food,” Gregersen said. “I love everything about food.”
Gregersen, 53, now lives in Whitewater, but she grew up Montpelier, Idaho, where, when she was 8, she entered snickerdoodles in the Bear Creek County Fair and won a blue ribbon.
Within the next three years, the blue ribbons turned purple, culminating in the Best of Show award for her chocolate chiffon cake when she was 17. It was decorated with edible flowers.
When she graduated from high school in the mid-1970s, Gregersen fled everything she had ever known and moved to Salt Lake City and got a job as a cashier at an Arby’s.
“I thought I’d be around other people who liked food, but mostly I was around other teenagers,” Gregersen said.
Despite advancing to assistant manager within the five years she was in Salt Lake, Gregersen moved back to Montpelier in the early 1980s. She married and became a mother of three boys.
She cooked at a local lounge and helped area restaurants on an on-call basis because Gregersen developed a reputation for making fantastic food.
Gregersen sent her children to school with sandwiches on homemade bread. Her mother did the same thing, and Gregersen hated it but learned her lesson.
“Every day of our life we had homemade bread,” Gregersen said, remembering her mother, who was a wonderful baker but not a good cook. “We just wanted Wonder Bread. I ate it once, and it stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I couldn’t get it out, and I’m like, ‘What is this?’ “
Consequently, Gregersen’s boys got homemade baked goods and bread. Her husband also took pies and other treats to the local fertilizer plant where he worked a swing shift.
Life continued that way for years, as Gregersen’s sons grew up on the good food she enjoyed making.
Then, in 1995, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, Gregersen responded well to treatment and a breast conservation surgery, coming out strong and ready to resume life in the restaurant business because her eldest was grown and the youngest two were in high school.
She got a job at a restaurant that served Western comfort food.
“That solidified that I had to be a chef,” Gregersen said. “There had to be something better. If I went to school, I realized there had to be more people like me.”
The opportunity to fulfill the dream arrived in an unexpected way when her husband lost his job at the plant in the early 2000s. As part of his termination package, the plant said it would help pay for schooling for any employee and his/her spouse if that employee was the primary wage-earner for the household.
In 2002, Steffan and Sherri Gregersen enrolled at Idaho State University to cram four years of schooling into the 2 1/2 years being paid for. Sherri was 43. Steffan was 40.
After a brief experimentation in business school, Sherri settled into culinary school.
“From day one, I was in love,” Gregersen said.
She received associate degrees in culinary arts, culinary arts management and hospitality.
“I knew the basics. I had raised three kids,” Gregersen said. “But there was a lot I didn’t know. There were vegetables and fruits out there we never see in this part of the country. Culturally, there were ways to use food differently.”
Gregersen picked up technique, lifelong lessons about flavor, and the invaluable understanding of the French term “mise en place,” which basically means getting everything in place before cooking. In other words, measure ingredients out and prep all the elements to a dish in advance.
“Then, it just flows,” Gregersen said.
The couple moved to Colorado in 2006. They bought a house from Keller Williams real estate agent Corrina Shirley. Gregersen gave Shirley a tiramisu instead of a thank you note.
“Oh, I haven’t seen anything she can’t do well,” said Shirley, who has eaten, among other things, Gregersen’s marinated goat cheese and poke, a Hawaiian dish with fresh seafood. “There is not right or wrong with her, there is just levels of great.”
Shirley and Holly Garcia, another of Gregersen’s friends, attributed Gregersen’s skill to her passion for good food.
“Sherri eats, lives and breathes food,” said Garcia, who worked with Gregersen at D.M.T. Catering from 2007 until the business sold in 2009. “To her, food is compassion. It’s not an occupation. She thinks of it as great art.”
As a fellow chef and cancer survivor, Garcia has formed a friendship with Gregersen because of their mutual respect and their mutual love of food.
Gregersen recently printed up business cards that say:
Good Food does not just Happen. :)
Chef Sherri Gregersen
In addition to working at D.M.T. Catering since moving to Colorado, Gregersen worked at Crossroads Wine & Spirits with its fresh fish and cheeses in 2011. She also participated in Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible” filming in October at Fruita’s Sullivan Grill, where she first volunteered to spruce up the restaurant but, while there, was asked to teach employees how to prepare the new menu once it was discovered she was a trained chef.
Gregersen plans to join Cake Cottage later this year to help create a savory quiche menu at the shop.
She wants to teach classes with Garcia.
“There are wonderful chefs out there who are creative and talented but everything Sherri makes is with love,” Garcia said. “I just couldn’t brag enough about Sherri to be honest. I know what kind of person she is. I know what quality she does.”