Anecdotes of late chef recall love of students, truffles
And that meant something, because Julian "Jules" Pernell loved truffles a lot.
"There are hundreds of types of truffles, and I think Jules loved them all," said Pat Moody, dean emeritus of the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management where Pernell taught for more than 20 years as executive chef and chef instructor.
Moody didn't know what a truffle was before she met Pernell, who ran into her office one day requesting money for the expensive fungal delicacies. She had to look them up on the Internet when he left.
"I think Jules is cooking truffles right now up there, and he has negotiated a big budget because he was always good at that," Moody said.
She said that Pernell came into work and excelled at his job every day even though he felt increasingly sick from the liver cancer that would eventually take his life. He died earlier this month at the age of 61.
But Tuesday's memorial service was not for mourning.
As the Rev. Carl Evans quoted from the Book of Ecclesiastes, there is "a time for everything purpose under heaven," but this was a time to smile, as Pernell did every day, and to tell a corny joke.
Or two, or three. In fact, every speaker shared a "Jules-ism" from the man they described as a "hilarious" and "completely ridiculous." Among them:
"Whatty whatty, nutty buddy?"
"Someone's slicker than a peeled Vidalia onion!"
Or the favorite of William Knapp, one of Pernell's fellow chef instructors, which Pernell uttered in response to a student who was considering abandoning a baking career: "There's a lot of dough to be made in that business!"
Knapp said simple forays to the grocery store with Pernell for a bag of apples could become two-hour ordeals once cashiers and customers in line began rushing up to say hello. Pernell also seemed to have an inside joke with every student and remembered everything about them.
But Knapp said Pernell was as amazing a chef as he was a person.
"The time I worked with Chef Pernell taught me more than 15 years of previous experience," Knapp said. "Jules taught me what it really means to be a professional chef."
Neal Smoak, director of the McCutchen House where Pernell taught and cooked, also recounted how exemplary "The Boss of Sauce" was as a colleague. After saying how humble Pernell was despite his high skill, Smoak decided to let the audience in on a secret about Pernell's more humble tastes.
Though his favorite sophisticated culinary dish was soft scrambled eggs covered in truffles, Pernell had a thing for Lizard's Thicket liver and onions, Rush's slaw dogs with no chili, Cherry Garcia ice cream and fried sweet potatoes covered in syrup. But his favorite comfort food was eastern North Carolina barbecue, which was served in the McCutchen House during a reception following the service.
His colleagues also joked about his love life. Pernell never married and didn't date often because, Smoak said, he was too obsessed with French truffles.
He recounted one time when Pernell took a woman to a USC football game and left her there because she knew nothing about truffles or Carolina football, another of his passions. He came back for her in the third quarter. Pernell was also constantly leaving the McCutchen House around lunchtime to escape women who were seeking him.
But most of the night focused on Pernell's close relationship with his students. Numerous letters from former students were read at the service. Each recalled his quirky sense of humor.
Sarah Farra, one of Pernell's former students who graduated in 2006, said she didn't understand his sense of humor at first.
"He told me I was his favorite kumquat, which I learned later was a fruit," Farra recalled. "At first, I didn't know how to take that."
But they later became great friends and would sing Broadway tunes back and forth in the kitchen. Farra sang "For Good" from the musical Wicked in remembrance of her teacher.
Taylor Harrison and Cera Osmialowski, both fourth-year hotel, restaurant and tourism management students, left the service visibly emotional. They remembered Pernell's humor and energy, and how he would always purposefully mispronounce Osmialowski's name. They both thought they would get him as a teacher again this year.
"I really came because I didn't get the chance to thank him. I thought he was coming back this semester, and I just wanted to tell him how special he was and how awesome that class was," Harrison said. "This was nice for that closure. He was really one of the best people I knew. Love radiated from that man."