Full-course meals are Rowland’s specialty

Published 8:45 am Wednesday, May 20, 2009

WAKEFIELD—Gladys Rowland doesn’t get rattled easily. With the job she has, she can’t afford to.

The 51-year-old cook never knows who or how many people she will be feeding — it could be a group of diplomats from the governor’s office in Richmond, or it could be a Boy Scout troop from her hometown.

Then it could be a kid’s birthday party, or the wedding reception of the area’s most eligible bachelor.

“It doesn’t matter who it is, they all get the best service we’re able to give,” she said.

Rowland, kitchen manager at the Southeast 4-H Center in Wakefield, has been handling these events for 22 years. She normally works five days per week, but her hours are flexible, she says.

“For instance, I came in this morning at 5:30 a.m., because our guests wanted breakfast at 6:30 a.m.”

Depending on the occasion, Rowland, as well as her staff of five, are there when they are needed.

“Our motto is to please our guests,” she went on. “If someone wants something out of the ordinary, we try to accommodate them.

“I’ve been known to go out and buy things that we don’t usually serve, just to please a guest” she said with a smile.

In her cooking, Rowland relies a lot on what she learned when she was living with her grandmother when she was growing up. She still serves her grandmother’s homemade rolls and cooks meats and vegetables the way her grandmother did.

And her desserts are “out of this world” according to the staff at the center.

Director Doug Chesson said, “She’s the best cook I know, with the exception of my wife, of course.”

“I don’t know what we’d do without her.”

It would seem that her co-workers know her well. Rowland has no trouble serving full-course meals throughout the week.

She is equally efficient in planning the food for receptions, parties, and special events, such as visits from Santa and the Easter Bunny.

She notes that she is partial to the kids’ events, however. “I get so much enjoyment in watching them have a good time.”

The mother of two grown children, who is also raising her 7-year-old grandson, says she has only one passion—watching cooking shows on TV and reading cooking magazines.

“That’s how I relax when I’m not working,” she added.

“But I love my work,” she revealed. “I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember and don’t know anything else I’d rather do.”

Name: Gladys Sumler


Age: 51

Occupation: Kitchen manager at the Southeast 4-H Center in Wakefield.

Favorite food: My own homemade salisbury steak

Least favorite food: Spinach

What is the first thing you remember cooking? Fried chicken. My grandmother was watching to see that I did it right.

What has been your worst cooking experience? Several years ago, I was helping the director here cook fish on the grill. It was for a special occasion and the fish were very expensive —about $15 each. Well, we had a terrible time. The fish came all apart before they were done. Somehow we managed, but we never did figure out what happened.

One ingredient you can’t cook without: Salt. It gives everything a better flavor.

What is the most important thing you have learned about cooking? Do not be afraid to learn new things. You can always add to a recipe or make substitutions. Sometimes doing this makes a better dish.

Who is the best cook you have ever known and why? My grandmother, who raised me. She made everything from scratch, even made some of her own spices and flavorings. I remember her bread puddings, sweet breads and sweet potato pudding, they were so good. I learned a lot from her and even use some of her recipes here. Of course, I memorized the recipes, because they were her own and she never wrote anything down.

If you could eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Probably my salisbury steak

Gladys rowland’s Salisbury steaks

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

2 eggs

¼ cup catsup

¼ cup Ranch dressing

½ cup chopped green pepper

½ cup chopped onion

3 tsp. A-1 Sauce

Salt & pepper to taste


Mix all ingredients together well and turn into a loaf pan.

Bake in 325 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Recipe may also be made into patties and grilled.