COOK OF THE WEEK: Ripley woman can’t seem to stay out of the kitchen

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – No matter which way Cheryl Thurmond turns, it seems she can’t get away from food.
One weekend a month, she operates the kitchen at Trader’s Inn Restaurant, the eatery at the First Monday flea market in Ripley, which her parents, Wayne and Betty Windham, operate.
A year ago, she began her own catering business, Gourmet To Go, where she specializes in preparing homemade casseroles, appetizers and desserts.
And then just about every night, after she gets home from her real job – she’s a school attendance officer for Tippah County – she heads to the house to cook a meal for herself and her husband, Keith.
“I’ve loved to cook as long as I can remember,” said Thurmond, 51, a mother of two. “Casseroles is what I really like to make.”
Thurmond began cooking like many Southern girls – at the feet of her grandmother, Clara Gattis of Ripley.
“I spent the night with her every Friday night when I was young,” she said. “She taught me how to make biscuits. I even had my own stool and my own black skillet. She was a huge influence, and my mother has been a huge influence as well.”
Thurmond enjoyed cooking so much as a teenager that she spent one summer planning and preparing 40 meals for a half-credit at school.
“I had to document each thing I made,” she said. “One thing that sticks out in my mind was petits fours. I made the biggest mess in that kitchen and my mother didn’t say a word.”

‘Selling convenience’
Thurmond has worked as a school attendance officer for the Mississippi Department of Education since 1983. She keeps thinking she’s going to retire one day, but she hasn’t been able to take that step.
“That’s why I started Gourmet To Go,” she said. “I was thinking I’d need something to do when I retired. So now, I’m doing both. I do my cooking for my business after school and on weekends.”
Her culinary creations are available at the family business, Fairview Portable Buildings on Highway 15, as well as at The Home Chef Market in Tupelo.
Customers like Thurmond’s chicken and wild rice, manicotti, old-timey cheese ring and her corn dip. One of the most popular dishes she sells is her Chicken Spaghetti.
“That’s funny, too, because everybody knows how to make it. I guess it’s just a good, comfort food,” Thurmond said. “You can find most of my recipes on the Internet. What I’m really selling is convenience.”

Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.