Good Food = Good Living
06 Feb 2022
In the kitchen with the culinary arts at Sandhills Community College
By Ray Owen » Photos by Brandon Williams
Angela Webb has a simple philosophy: food is essential for life, but good food prepared well is essential for good living. Born in New Jersey and raised in Brooklyn, since 2020, Webb has been a full-time instructor at Sandhills Community College, teaching the next generation of chefs for country clubs, hotels and restaurants.
Webb took the slow route to food, learning the basics from her mother but having no real interest in cooking until age 26. “I didn’t come from a gourmet-eating family,” she explains. “My mom cooked a lot, but it wasn’t fancy. There was no set dinnertime, nothing like that. It was really bad then because it was all canned food.”
“My influence was Martha Stewart,” Webb says, smiling. “Watching her make things from scratch that I’d heard about made such an impression. You can buy mushroom soup and make gravy, but to actually watch someone make gravy, with nice dishes and table settings – that piqued my curiosity.”
In 2006, Webb enrolled at the French Culinary Institute in New York, after years with companies such as Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Showtime and Prudential Securities. “I was in sales and marketing for big corporations in New York and just hated it,” she explains.
Upon graduation, she worked at restaurants in New York and Florida, and later with high-end caterers in Los Angeles where she ultimately ran her own personal chef and catering company. Her husband, Patrick, a decorative plasterer, was working with a Southern Pines artist and that prompted their move to Moore County. Webb loves to travel, and living in different places around the country fed her sense of adventure.
“I wasn't sure what type of work I was going to be able to get here,” Webb recounts. “I ended up meeting the Culinary Arts department chair at Sandhills Community College, and she asked me if I’d be interested in teaching continuing education classes. In time, as faculty left, I started teaching some of the upper-level culinary courses.”
For Webb, a great meal begins long before the heat hits the pan. She considers the taste she wants to achieve, then goes for the ingredients. On a cold day she might want to evoke a feeling of warmth and comfort with something earthy and filling, such as a nice squash in season or root vegetable in a rich broth – then the dish must appeal to the eyes.
In many circles, cooking is considered a form of creative expression and Webb agrees. “Everyone is different,” she reminds. “How one takes food from its natural state and transforms it into a meal is unique. If you’re preparing an anniversary dinner, you’re making something a couple might remember for the rest of their life together – that’s where the art comes into it for me. Such beauty is an essential aspect of our humanity, and we draw inspiration from it.”
Her passion for good eats extends beyond just the taste or experience. According to Webb, food is not only a necessity like clothing and shelter, in a sense, it is also “medicine” through its ability to limit or reverse disease. We’ve lost sight of that. In addition, meals traditionally brought people together and we’ve gotten away from that as well.
In modern society, we have this thing called a “working lunch” where deals are hashed out at the table. “The worst time to talk business is when you’re eating because in some ways, it’s adversarial,” says Webb. “Your mind is not on your food, you’re thinking about money or the next thing, never considering the impact on your digestion.”
“We’ve relegated meals to something we grab on the way,” she says with some concern. “We’ve reduced it to carbs and proteins, fats and sugars. We don’t necessarily look at its impact on us holistically. Personally, I’d like to see our society change the way we think about food. Eating well should hold a special place in our daily lives. How to make that happen is where I come in.”
The “slow food” movement, in Webb’s opinion, is among the best modern approaches. The movement began in the 1980s, centering on food prepared according to region-specific traditions, typically using high-quality locally sourced ingredients. “It’s nice that it sprung up, but it’s sad that we need to be reminded to appreciate the seasons and connections,” says Webb.
Before the widespread use of home refrigeration, people were conscious that they lived in an agrarian world. “This is something that previous generations knew,” says Webb. “The concept of a slow food wasn’t foreign to them. So much of what our predecessors understood now has to be a trend for us to get it.”
Along those lines, Webb and her cohorts have launched a farm-to-table initiative on campus, with produce grown in raised beds on the Little Hall terrace and other crops grown a short distance away in the horticultural gardens. The small but productive terrace garden is tended by Lin Hilton, who shares her encyclopedic knowledge of gardening with everyone.
“Farm-to-table was something we wanted to do for the past two or three years,” says Webb. “It’s a learning opportunity for everyone, helping students better understand seasonal cooking. To run a successful restaurant, you must utilize every scrap of what’s coming into your kitchen. It also shows the community what grows here and how produce from a home garden can be used.”
In communities across the United States, we are losing farmers to the point that they barely factor into the average person’s regular routine or outlook because there are so few of them. Of those that remain, many work their land part-time, requiring other jobs just to make ends meet. “I don’t know what this world looks like without farmers,” cautions Webb.
“We have such talented, dedicated farmers here in our backyard,” according to Webb. “They also need a voice. The college is centrally located among the farms, and I’d really like to see us become a hub for their produce and for students to learn to make use of it.”
The college is indeed uniquely position because of the tremendous community support their culinary program enjoys. “Think about how Vermont and portions of California are known for their food,” says Webb. “I believe North Carolina is poised to be that next place.” And may the Sandhills lead the charge.