Chef Jeanie Roland and her husband/business partner James Roland own Ella’s Fine Food & Drink in Westerly, along with another restaurant, The Perfect Caper, in Punta Gorda, Florida. We talked about running two restaurants in different states, local seasonal ingredients and where the name Ella came from.
Neither you or James are from Rhode Island. Why did you choose Westerly for your restaurant?
When we decided to open another restaurant, we chose Rhode Island to be close to my father who has a house in Charlestown. I spent all of my summers in Charlestown and fell in love with the area. Westerly is such a great city and we felt a restaurant like Ella’s would do well here.
Who is Ella?
The name Ella had been on my mental list for about two years before we found our location, which had been an iconic restaurant called Cappizano’s for over 50 years. We asked the Cappizano sons, Dave and Frank, what their mother’s name was. When they said Eleanor, we knew it had to be Ella’s!
You refer to your food as “French-Asian inspired.” How do French and Asian cuisines inform and influence each other?
The blend of the fresh and diverse flavors of Asian ingredients and the foundation of French techniques is just a great palate for a chef. It is easy to mix the techniques and flavors and create exciting food.
How do you balance running two businesses that are more than 1,000 miles apart?
The only way we can run the two restaurants at the level they are run is due to the staff at The Perfect Caper. The management has taken ownership of the restaurant and this is essential for it to run as well as it does. My chef and sous chef were both trained from dishwashers to their current positions; my manager has been with us for ten years and is amazing. I am blessed to have people like that working with me. That makes it much easier.
How does the seafood in Florida compare with Rhode Island?
I feel the seasonality much more in New England and really enjoy this aspect as a chef. My preference has always leaned toward the coldwater fish, even at The Perfect Caper.
What’s your favorite culinary season in Rhode Island?
My favorite season in Rhode Island is early fall when we are starting to get the fall produce and still have the summer’s bounty. The Westerly area has great local farms and they inspire a myriad of specials.
What are your favorite local ingredients or products to cook with?
My favorite local ingredients are corn, tomatoes and honey. You can do so much with all three in sweet and savory dishes.
Where do you like to eat in Rhode Island when you go out?
On my day off we like to stick close to home, mostly going to the Ocean House or grabbing a Grandma’s Pie and salad at Vetrano’s.
What was it like making your way as a female chef in a male-dominated industry? Is it still the old boys’ club, or has it opened up?
From the beginning I had to set myself apart by being assertive and knowing I had to be a lot better than my male counterparts. Has this changed? I would like to believe it has and will, but when women are still paid much less than men for the same job we are still fighting the same prejudices.
Ella’s Fine Food & Drink
2 Tower Street, Westerly