Carole Peck has been widely recognized as one of the most talented chefs cooking today. Food Arts magazine named her one of the nation's top young chefs in 1992; in 1994, Eating Well magazine put her on their honor roll of eight chefs from around the country. She was one of only four chefs chosen from a group of 900 to cook for the Julia Child Cookbook Awards.
Her restaurant, The Good News Cafe in Woodbury, CT, has been sought out by celebrities including Jason Robards, Dustin Hoffman, Martin Scorcese, Robin Leach, Mia Farrow, Diane Sawyer, William Styron, Arthur Miller and Ron Howard as well as food writers such as Jane and Michael Stern.
Why is her food so special? Peck has a sure instinct for combining flavors in new ways that ring true to the palate, an artist's eye for making the food on the plate look as beautiful as a painting, a decorator's sense of the play between flowers, linens, other decorations and the dining experience, plus a veteran hostess's knack for wrapping all the elements together in a package of pure fun.
Unlike some other distinguished chefs. Peck has always enjoyed preparing food for crowd. "All through my career, I've handled a lot of parties. I've probably done more than 1,500 weddings." She loves not only menu planning, but choosing flowers, and other decorations, for the total look. She has had tropical birds, palms, and "all sorts of things" brought in to a party zing. Peck prefers buffets for a crowd, and finds it more in keeping with today's lifestyles. "People are more casual about entertaining today," says Peck. "They want to have parties, but don't want to keep jumping up between courses. Buffets let you be a guest at your own party.
Connections between food, family, and fun go back to Peck's childhood. Born into a family with Ukrainian roots, Peck has vivid taste memories of many ethnic foods. Eating out was a special treat she looked forward to. She relished tastes that many childhood friends didn't share. (Her lunchboxes carried sandwiches filled with things like liverwurst or blood and tongue sausage. "I wondered why nobody wanted to trade," she chuckles.) While in high school, she got a job as a short-order cook in a Howard Johnson's restaurant and knew right away that she wanted to make cooking her career. She then enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, learned the rules of French cooking and became a standout garde manger, the member of the staff in charge of decorative work in a classic French kitchen. Nobody else could make food look as gorgeous on the plate. she won a coveted fellowship to apprentice with legendary chef Fernand Granger of Le Pavillon restaurant. (She was also a trailblazer for gender: She was one of only 28 women to 1,000 men at the Culinary Institute in her class.)
Next she began her ascent to the top ranks of the culinary major leagues. She had to win the confidence of older chefs, mostly French and German, who weren't used to hiring women. One of them "wanted me to wear a little pantry dress" instead of a chef's uniform, she recalls. "He couldn't believe I wouldn't spoil the sauce." But her strong talents won out, and at the age of 24, she got her first executive chef job at the Hilton Head sea Pines Plantation resort.
After working as the executive chef at many other restaurants and resorts including the resort on Fisher Island in Miami and the two-star Cafe Greco in New York, Peck moved to Connecticut to go back to the land and be close to the purveyors. She opened Carole Peck's restaurant in Hunt Hill Farms, CT, until four years ago when she expanded her operation and opened the Good News cafe in Woodbury, VT, which she owns and operates with her husband, the French painter Bernard cabernet. Her emphasis on locally grown organic foods, has made some refer to her as the East Coast's Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame. Most of the ingredients she uses in the restaurant come from small family farms nearby. Peck also emphasizes foods in season. "Let's enjoy asparagus in the spring. Let's not try to have it all year," she argues.
Peck lives in a 250-year old cider mill in Woodbury, CT, which she and her husband, Bernard, have restored and which houses a very unique collection of American Folk Art.