Skip to main content

Millie Peartree Transcript

 Full Heart & Full Bellies with Millie Peartree Transcript

Kerry Diamond: Hey everyone, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe, the podcast that's all about women and food. I'm your host, Kerry Diamond, coming to you from my apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Today's guest is Millie Peartree, one of the most inspiring women I know. She's a chef, and all summer long, she's been busy fighting hunger in the Bronx by feeding thousands of children through her Full Heart Full Bellies initiative. Before that, Millie was feeding essential workers during the darkest coronavirus days that New York was experiencing. Last year was a tough one for Millie, and we talk about that as well. Her much loved restaurant had to shut down for reasons completely beyond her control. Millie is such a doer and always gives back to her community. I'm thrilled you get to learn a little bit More about Millie Peartree during this episode.

Thank you to the folks at Sonos for supporting our podcast and letting us share conversations like this one. Visit to learn more about their Sonos Move speaker, and if you already have a Sonos Move speaker, I hope you're listening to Radio Cherry Bombe on it. Some housekeeping, looking for ways to support Cherry Bombe? You can subscribe to the magazine. We're working on our next issue right now. And, you can become a member of Cherry Bombe. You'll get access to special member events, discounts, and be featured on the Members Corner of our website. Visit for more. And, thanks to all our members and subscribers out there. You are the Bombe.

We'll be right back after this word from Sonos.

I've been road-testing the Sonos Move speaker for the past few weeks, and I've been in sound heaven. It's a major upgrade from listening to my favorite music and podcasts on my phone speaker, as you can imagine. So, what is the Sonos Move? It's a premium smart speaker and it's called Move because it's portable. You can to move it from room to room, from your kitchen to your bathroom, to whatever table or nook or cranny is serving as your home office. The move is also weather resistant. So, if you're lucky enough to have outdoor space, you can have crystal clear sound inside and out.

Another cool feature for my fellow radio nerds out there: via the Sonos app, you can stream thousands of stations for free, including live radio from around the world, and listen through your Move. And then, there's Sonos Radio, more than two dozen stations, including one of my favorites—Cruise Control, the yacht rock station, is my ultimate summertime playlist. There's also punk rock, reggae, and even a workout remix, which I should probably acquaint myself with. Wants to surround yourself with beautiful sound and cool tunes? Of course you do. Go to to learn more.

Now here's my conversation with Millie Peartree.

Okay. So Millie, welcome to Radio Cherry Bombe. I'm so excited that I get to interview you. This was not going to be my first question, but people don't always believe that's your real name.

Millie Peartree: No. I always say I equate it to the movie Matilda, Miss Honey. Miss Honey sounds like a school teacher, Millie Peartree sounds like a school teacher, a daycare provider, just someone that's destined to be someone great.

Kerry Diamond: Well, you clearly were destined for greatness. Millie, you've been really busy this summer with the special project called Full Heart Full Bellies. Can you tell us what this project is all about?

Millie Peartree: Full Heart Full Bellies was created to provide prepared meals for children in the Bronx, New York grades K through 12. I started this initiative on July 6th, and it's going to end next Friday, sadly, August 28th. But, we're going to extend it, it was just to provide children in the Bronx with meals due to limited and/or canceled programs due to COVID-19.

Kerry Diamond: So Millie, how did the idea come about?

Millie Peartree: So, the idea came about was back in, I think late May, early... I'm sorry. Late March, early April, a very good mutual friend Laura Brown, who's the editor in chief of InStyle magazine, she and I were talking and she said she wanted to feed some essential workers. And, people always ask "What's an essential worker?" And, it was just anybody that was combating COVID-19 on the frontline. And, she said she want to send some meals to Elmhurst Hospital. So from there, a few other people started to reach out to me to send meals on behalf of their companies and themselves as individuals. And then, my cousin reached out to me and she said, "Well, how do we get some of these meals to the MTA?" Because she's an essential worker, she's actually a train conductor.

So, I created an initiative called Essential Meals, where we fed any and everybody that was on the frontline working. So, whether it was a UPS worker, NYPD Domestic Violence Unit, the bodega owner. We just wanted to let people know that we cared and we wanted to help them out in some way, shape or form. So, I knew that we were going to start opening up the phases of New York City, but my main concern was children, what were they going to do? Because I know that a lot of the programs in the summer were going to be canceled. There was a couple public schools in my area, and they were completely closed.

So, as I walked around my neighborhood in the Bronx, I always used see lines of cars. And, I asked a friend one day, I asked, "Is that COVID testing?" And, someone was like, "No, that's actually lines for pantry." So, that's when I decided, I was like, "You know what, I have to do something." It just pulled on my heartstrings so much. And, we know about food insecurity, but I think at the height of COVID it just stared us directly in the face. I never knew, to the extent of how many people were going hungry because of this pandemic.

So, I started the Full Heart Full Bellies initiative where, we can feed children, and help people, and help their parents because it was more than just children getting fed. A lot of parents are prideful, and sometimes they don't have the extra money, or the extra food to feed their children, five and six meals a day. We know that children are snackers, especially when you're home, sometimes we eat out of boredom. So, I wanted to make sure that I can help parents as it pertains to them not having enough. And last but equally important, bringing people back to work.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, how many children did you wind up feeding?

Millie Peartree: We would have serviced 14400 meals.

Kerry Diamond: That's incredible. What people need to understand is you are just one person, and you have been fundraising, and cooking, and putting all of this together. I really don't know how you do it. So, I guess my next question is, how do you do it?

Millie Peartree: Well, I cannot take all the credit for it. Over my culinary career, I was able to form wonderful relationships. So, I was talking to my mentor, Marc Scheuer he's the Senior Vice President of a company called Restaurant Associates. Restaurant Associates does a lot of corporate dining and museums in New York City. They do other states as well, but of course I met him in New York City when I had my cupcake company. He and I got talking, and he was like, "Well, how could my company help your initiative moving forward?" And I said, "Well, number one, I need a kitchen space." When I was doing the Essential Meals initiative, I was actually working with small business owners and renting part of their kitchens, which can be difficult because of course they want to operate. And I just said, "You know what, if I'm going to be doing this amount of volume, I need more space."

So from there, he spoke to one of his clients, which is Amazon. And Amazon said, "You know what, we want to support this initiative." And, they have many cafeterias here in New York City, and they said, "We're going to help you." And, they gave me an entire staff to help produce these meals for these children. As well, Coca Cola came on as an in kind beverage sponsor, where we get Minute Maid orange and apple juice for the children. And then, another bakery that I've worked with before, The Bread Gal Bakery is a bakery here in the Tri-state area in New Jersey, and they jumped in and they donated bread when we did Italian dishes, and when we did really good burgers—beef and turkey. And, Barilla Pasta even came in and donated some pasta. So, I feel like all around, everybody felt that there was a need, and everybody wanted to help.

Kerry Diamond: I should mention that you're not just making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and dropping them off. I think people could tell from some of the things you just referenced, that you're making actual meals for the children. You did the same thing with the essential workers. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Millie Peartree: Well, yes, ma'am. It's one of those things where I didn't want children just to have a sandwich. So, just to backtrack a little bit, when we were feeding the essential workers, one person reached out to me because her brother worked at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. And, for those that don't know, Lincoln Hospital is a trauma hospital. So, it's a running joke, but not a joke, that if you ever get shot, go to Lincoln because they will patch you up, get you right, and they'll save your life. So, when I spoke with the receiving administrator at Lincoln Hospital, she and I got into a deep conversation, which was supposed to be five minutes to solidify a drop off date and time.

It turned into a 30, 35-minute conversation, and she said during the pandemic, they went from 4 ICU to about 30. And through that conversation, she often spoke about the donations that they did receive, and in no way shape or form she was looking a gift horse in the mouth. She just said, "You know what, we really don't get anything that's of per se great quality." Which quality is relative, they got sandwiches, pizza, salad. And I said, "Well, you know what, what I'm doing with my initiative is I want to serve people the way I would if I'm catering a dinner party, if you were eating at my formerly closed restaurant. I want to make sure people got a meal that was from the heart."

So, we sent them jerk chicken and Hoppin' John, which is the combination of Carolina rice and black-eyed peas. Similar to arroz con pollo, and other rice dishes like paella if you add peas. And, she was just so thankful that we actually took the time. One, because she felt I listened to her, which I always do. But number two, it was something more special that they were able to receive. So with that being said, I wanted to make sure we moved that into the children's initiative because the Bronx is very diverse. It's a makeup of a lot of different nationalities, and racial and ethnic groups, and I wanted to encompass that into our menus as well.

So, we do arroz con pollo, we do jerk chicken, we've done Asian stir fries. We just wanted to make sure the children got something that they couldn't necessarily get now. A lot of parents don't have the same amount of liquid money that they once had before, and these are the things that these children were used to eating. Like, they eat burgers, Chinese food, Hispanic food, Western, Indian food. So, I wanted to make sure that we were able to take the things that we ate in our community, and infuse them into our menu so the children can still get restaurant quality food in the privacy and comfort of their home.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing, Millie, and really, really thoughtful that you took it to that extent. The hunger problem here in New York is just so upsetting when you think of how much wealth is in the city. It's incredible that anybody goes hungry here, but they do. And, I wanted to chat with you just a little bit about why this is. I mean, clearly it's tied to so many things including systemic racism. But, you've seen this firsthand now all summer. What's your take on this?

Millie Peartree: In fact, 31% of children live in food insecure neighborhoods. The reason why we chose the Bronx in particular is, number one that was my hometown borough. Number two, I had a restaurant in the community. And number three, it's the poorest borough of all of the five boroughs, and the South Bronx, which we targeted is the poorest community in the Bronx. So, it was one of those things I honestly don't know the answer to that question. Why is it that the richest city in the nation has food insecure homes?

So, I'm one of those people that, I'm not a complaining person. I might express my frustration, but for the most part the expression of my frustration stops as soon as the last word leaves my mouth. I'm one of those people like, if you can do something to help someone else, you do it. So, when it came time to actually help people, I said, "You know what, I'm going to do this in the community that I'm from, I had a business in." Because when people came to my restaurant, even though it was tongue in cheek, they would spend their last. And, when they uttered those words, "You know what Millie, I came in here with my last $10." They weren't saying it because they wanted something for free. They were saying it because it was true.

As a human being, I cannot see anybody going hungry. And I can't see myself making money off the backs of people in my community, and I have the platform and the wingspan to help folks. So, I just wanted to make sure that... I want to let people know that I care. And, there are always people out there that speak about things, but I'm one of those people that I'm not going to speak about it, I'm going to be about it.

Kerry Diamond: You're a doer, you've proven that over and over again. I don't think everybody realizes necessarily how much hunger is tied to the school system, in that when schools aren't open a lot of children go hungry because the school provides their only meal or meals of the day.

Millie Peartree: I work with Department of Education a couple years ago. I was the caterer for their... They had a weekend program. And the same thing, when they worked with previous companies they got sandwiches, and they were surprised that I took the time to give them rice, and chicken, and vegetables. And, I think that in order to be a strong, productive person, you need sustenance. So, think about it, when we're very hungry, how hard is it to concentrate and focus? All you can think about is that rumble in your stomach, the dryness in your mouth from being parched. And, that does something when you're trying to concentrate and be a great student. So, I feel oftentimes we're at a disadvantage across the board because we're in Black and Brown communities that are oftentimes forgotten. They are deemed disenfranchised communities. We're at a place where it's like, "Are we ever going to succeed?"

So, I was like, "You know what, I want my people to be able to follow in Millie Peartree's footsteps, and have a business, and be able to go off to college, and be able to have all of these things." But, it starts at the bare minimum with food. So therefore, if I can at least give that portion to a child and say, "You know what, I care. This is what I'm going to do to help you, and to help a parent." That's what I'm all for. So, I just feel like, collectively I'm still building, I'm still trying to forge these ideas. I don't have all the answers. But in the meantime, between time, I can use my talent to help someone else, I'm 100% for it.

Kerry Diamond: What are your plans now that the summer is almost over?

Millie Peartree: We're going to take a little break, but on September 14, Amazon has offered to continue our hospitality program. So, it's great that again, we'll have another full staff for another school semester to feed these children. So we're speaking about, other ways as it pertains to the meals, and possibly offering food boxes. But collectively, with the culinary staff, which wonderful chefs from Amazon and all across the city, we had our little staff meeting yesterday, and we said, "What can we do?" We wanted to provide even more hearty meals. So, we've all heard from wonderful Dr. Fauci with all of his great research that, it may be a spike come October in combination with cold and flu season. So, I wanted to make sure children got even more sustenance.

So, we're going to shift our menu into soups and stews. I'm speaking with a lot of corporate sponsors moving forward to see if they can actually help us during this process to feed children, and give them something more. So one of my favorite... I'm a root vegetable girl. I love potatoes. I love carrots. I love celery. So, we're going to try and incorporate one of my favorite soups. It's a Dominican soup called sancocho. And of course, I reference a lot of Hispanic cooking because of course I'm from the Bronx. I grew up in a Southern household, collard greens, macaroni and cheese all day, but I love Hispanic food because I feel like that was the area I grew up in, and that's what I ate a lot of growing up here, and then when I went off to college and I had Puerto Rican neighbors.

So, I want to make sure, again, we go back into the community and find those same recipes. And, our culinary staff is a combination. The executive chef at Amazon, he's Jamaican. So, he talked about some of the things that they ate during the winter months that are from his culture. So, we're just talking about how we can incorporate more of our formal and informal training and our expertise into these meals moving forward for the children for another school semester.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, how can our listeners help?

Millie Peartree: Well as of right now, I still have my GoFundMe, it's called Full Heart Full Bellies. And, even though you guys heard me say that Amazon comes on as a hospitality partner. They help a lot on the logistical end, but on the flip side we still have food purchasing, we have packaging, we have delivery, our wonderful partner Audi, they worked with us. It's a lot of volume. So, of course we send out our food in temperature control trucks as well. So, we want to make sure everything is safe for the children. So, if anybody can donate any contribution, whether it's $1 or $5, all of the money goes towards the whole operation of the day-to-day that actually makes this initiative come together.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, I know you don't like to be called a chef, but you are a chef. I know the foods that you are known for because I've been very fortunate to eat your food. You came and hung out with us back at the Cherry Bombe office when we still had an office, pre-COVID, and made us some really amazing stuff. But, let's tell the listeners what are some of the foods you're known for?

Millie Peartree: Well, I think the most famous thing I'm known for is my Southern macaroni and cheese. It's a traditional Southern classic with eggs and lots of cheese. Is not the standard which you see more of a saucy macaroni and cheese, is more casserole style. And then, other things that I make are, I make really good salads. Everything isn't as rich as macaroni and cheese, but I can honestly say that that's the crowd favorite.

Kerry Diamond: Well, I had to laugh Millie, because when you said that you are root vegetable girl, the first thing that was in my head was, "Well, I'm a macaroni and cheese girl." Let's talk about your recipe because I was really fortunate that I got to interview you for the September issue of InStyle, hugely exciting. Did you get your copy yet?

Millie Peartree: I did not. But, I'm going to make sure I speak to someone to get my copy, and I'm going to autograph my own article.

Kerry Diamond: I did not get my copy yet either, so we're in good company. But, not only did I get to interview you, but we shared your mac and cheese recipe in the magazine. And, I wanted to go through this recipe because it's so good. Your macaroni and cheese is some of the best macaroni and cheese I ever had. And, I apologize if my mother is listening because she makes really good mac and cheese too. But yours, if there was a prize, sorry mom Millie's would win the prize. So, let me just read the ingredients to everybody. Elbow macaroni, unsalted butter, three large eggs, beaten, salt and pepper, obviously, four cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, two cups shredded Colby-jack cheese, blend, and then two cups whole milk. So, anybody who would read that would be like, "Okay. That's a pretty basic macaroni and cheese list of ingredients." Where does the magic happen Millie?

Millie Peartree: First of all, don't overcook your noodles, because the combination of the milk and the baking process is going to continue to carry over. So, I think that number one always start with clean hands, that I don't care if it was coronavirus and not going on. That's always the number one before you even pull the dish out of the cabinet, before you put that pot of water on the stove make sure you have clean hands. Secondly, I think that you have to have an affinity, and a passion, and an eagerness to want to cook and put out an excellent dish, because if your spirit is not in it, it's not going to come out correctly. Three, it would be making sure you don't overcook the noodles, and always taste as you go.

So even in the recipe, people will always say, "Well, why didn't it come out the way you make it?" Or, "I don't see the pepper flakes." Or, "It didn't have enough seasoning." Of course, we say things as simple as half a teaspoon of pepper on the teaspoon of salt, but it's most important that you taste throughout the process, because we're going to salt the water, you're going to add salt to the noodles, you're going to add cheese that has salt in it. So, it's very important that you taste as you make this recipe to get the best consistency as possible.

Kerry Diamond: So, you bake this for 30 minutes, and then the mac and cheese might still be jiggly at that point, but you said it sets. So, talk us through what that means.

Millie Peartree: As we all know, pasta, it absorbs liquid. So, two things are going to happen. It might come out a little jiggly when you take it out the oven, but when it sits the pasta will absorb some of the liquid but that's the purpose of the eggs as well, because the eggs stiffen it up some. You can possibly, if you're in a rush to eat it right away, and you don't want the little jiggle in the bottom, then you could bake it for about five minutes more, and then when you take it out, put the cheese on top, boil it, and it should get to a perfect consistency.

But, some people, it's a little bit more on the loose end. But traditionally, when I've had it in the past, prior to me creating this recipe, it was more firm, because it was special occasion macaroni and cheese, which maybe that we had on Thanksgiving, we had on Christmas, Easter Sunday. And occasionally, depending on the anniversary after church service, mainly the pastor's anniversary, that's when we had it. And, it was produced for a large congregation. So, of course they're pulling this macaroni and cheese out of the oven to feed hundreds of people, so it was never served immediately if that makes sense. So, it sat, and then by the time it was scooped and put on your plate, it was a little bit more tight.

Kerry Diamond: I love it. Do you add anything in... Red Hook Lobster Pound, there's this restaurant takeout place down in Red Hook near my apartment. And, they have lobster macaroni and cheese, and I was like "Oh, that's interesting." Do you ever add anything to this?

Millie Peartree: Well, the recipe will be out... I would change the recipe. So, I might change the cheese depending on what I have in my refrigerator. Like I had tacos a couple times this week, so if I want to make macaroni and cheese I'll probably use the Mexican blend cheese or whatever cheese that I had at home. The only reason why I wouldn't add lobster, or any shellfish, and you could possibly add chicken. But, the reason why I will stay away from the shellfish is, it'll overcook. You and I both know, if you put lobster or shrimp in oven for 30 minutes it's going to be tough as a rubber band. Those type of delicate seafoods are better reserved for when you're making a béchamel starting with a rue process. Because the only thing you're going to do is the lobster, the shrimp will cook in that sauce, and I think traditionally they're topped with breadcrumbs, or a little bit more cheese, and then you're going to under a salamander or broil.

So, when you're eating that type of recipe, you're going to get the delicate, smooth, sweet flavor of the seafood with the creaminess of the cheese. And, this instance is more casserole and you have to bake it longer. So, I personally wouldn't recommend it. But to answer your question, the only extras that I'll add in is a different variation of cheese, and maybe some garlic powder, or if I'm feeling a little spicy I'll top it with some paprika. But, it'll have to be Hungarian spicy paprika, because we all know that regular paprika is just for color. It does absolutely nothing to me.

Kerry Diamond: Well, thank you for saving me from a rubbery lobster macaroni and cheese. I'll stick to the classic. So, how did you become a chef?

Millie Peartree: So, I can say I developed my affinity for cooking at about six years old. I think that's when I cracked my first egg. And, I used to make eggs a lot with my mom. And, I remember one time she told me she's like, "Girl, your cholesterol is going to be sky high. You can't eat eggs every single day." But, I remember that was the first thing that I ever created. And then, since then I remember baking, of course great box mixes, and we used to make cakes and stuff. And then, as I entered into high school, that's when I think my mom allowed me to make more things with her groceries. Let me tell you something, a Black household, that is a rite of passage to let your mother use her groceries to cook something, a because all Black moms is like, "You're not going to play in my food."

So, when I was able to actually, I guess, quote unquote, sell my mom on I was a good cook, she had no problem allowing me to do it. I wanted to go to culinary school after high school, but my mother told me, she's like, "I'm not going to pay for something you already know how to do." So, I did go to college, and that's when I think it opened my eyes up to different types of cooking, and different cuisines, because I went to school in Utica, New York. And of course, every college is a mix of people, it's just not the people that live in your community.

So from there, I was able to learn different recipes, and have people show me authentically how they made things in their household. It was just like having a cookbook right in front of you in physical form. So, that's the way I made a lot of my recipes off the cuff, just standing next to the stove with someone and saying, "This is the way my mom did it, this way my grandmother did it." And, that's the way I was able to establish more of a variety of the things I like to make at home. During though, I believe it was my junior senior year of college, my mom got... She told me she had colon cancer. And then, when I was 25 years old, my mom passed away from the disease. But, before she passed away, she said... I have four brothers and sisters and two of them autistic. And, she told me, she said, "You know what, I don't have to worry about leaving this Earth because I know that the kids will be well fed."

So, that was very touching as well because she knew that these children would be in good hands, because they would eat well. And, even prior to my mom passing, she used to always ask me to cook. So, that was another gold medal for me because when people are sick and they go through chemotherapy, we always hear that they don't have much of an appetite. But, she always mustered up the strength to say, I want something to eat, and she would eat as much of it that she could. But, she always found a way to get an appetite for my cooking. And then, from there I cooked more, I became a private chef, I cooked for a couple of basketball players, that played on both teams here in New York, Necks and Knicks. And then, I guess that's pretty much it. I opened up a restaurant I saw for rents on one day, that I took a chance on it, and I guess the rest they say is all history.

Kerry Diamond: Well, it's a big history because we need to talk about what happened next. So, you opened Millie Peartree Fish Fry & Soul Food, your very first restaurant in the Bronx. Why did you want to have your own restaurant?

Millie Peartree: I mean, I toyed with the idea for a while about opening up a restaurant, but it wasn't like I was on the pursuit of opening up a restaurant. What happened was, I was coming from the gym one day, and I saw a for rent sign and I put an offer in and they said, "Okay." So, it was a way to invest some money because I was cooking privately, I was doing some catered events. And, I said, "Well, let me invest on myself, and let me be able to open up something." And, it was twofold. The first part was, people always used to say, "How can I get some of your food?" And then, I was like, "I can open up a restaurant so people can have that food on a daily basis." But the second part was, I get to actually give people jobs. So, that was a blessing in itself that I was able to use money from someone hiring me, and I was able to put it back into my community to hire someone else.

Kerry Diamond: Can you tell us what was on the menu?

Millie Peartree: It was a traditional fish fry and soul food restaurant, so we had fried whiting. And, all my fish was fresh, so it's never that frozen, you have to throw a whole bunch of seasoning on it to get some type of flavor from it. So, we used fresh whiting and fresh catfish. We made my, of course famous macaroni and cheese, low country collard greens with smoked turkey, potato salad, no raw onions, no raisins. Macaroni salad, sweet candy yams, honey butter corn muffins, just traditional Southern food that we made every day, and it was the best thing. I loved it.

Kerry Diamond: So, you open this place, people love it, of course. And, even the New York Times loves it. They come by they give you a rave review. Tell us what happened next.

Millie Peartree: I was in the Goldman Sachs 10000 Small Business program, maybe a year or so after I opened my first restaurant. And, during that program, they said, "In order to grow your business you have to expand." So, I was in a little 550 square foot spot, and then two spaces literally next door to me, same address just different store number became vacant. So, I said "You know what, why not expand my business." People always said, "Oh, I want to sit down." Because it's soul food, it's more rich, it's on the heavier side. And of course, you don't want to always get it to go. I'm more of a to go girl, I like to sit home, take my shoes off, but some people like to sit down and enjoy their meal and be social. So, I opened up my new spot in 2019, an expansion of my smaller spot.

Kerry Diamond: And then, what happened?

Millie Peartree: And then, I was there for about eight months. And, on November 22, 2019, Con Edison came to my restaurant, and told me that they were going to have to shut the gas off due to gas leaks, and they had illegal gas plumbing work done in the building. I mean, I remember the day vividly, only because I catered the Route 100 Gala the night before, and I was tired. So, it was like, my next shift came in at four o'clock, so I was like, "Let me just get through the day." Because I was actually an employee of my restaurant, I just wasn't a restaurant owner.

So they came in, I remember that day I was on the phone with Con Edison, I was paying my bill as I always did, and I saw an emergency services truck pull up. So, as I'm speaking with the representative on the phone, I was like, "Oh, the truck is here." And then she says, "Oh, you're not scheduled for anything." Like, "What's going on?" It was just one of those random conversations like, "Oh, why is there a random truck outside with flashing lights?" And she said, "I don't see anything in the system just yet."

I'm on the phone, and a gentleman says, "Where's your gas shutoff valve?" And I said, "Well, my kitchen..." They asked me that question, the said, "Where's your gas shutoff valve?" And then, "Have you ever had any issues with gas service?" And I said, "Well, I've never had any issues with gas service." They asked how long I've been there, and I was like, "Well, I've been in this spot eight months, but I was next door for over two years." So they said, "You know what, we need to see where gas valves are." And I was like, "Well, they're behind the cook line." Because it was a preexisting restaurant that I moved into, so nothing was ever changed or messed with. They looked around, and he said, "Just to let we might have to shut the gas off." And, this was like 10:30 in the morning. And what I mean, they worked until about three o'clock in the afternoon, supervisor after supervisor came. Hard hat Con Edison technicians came, and he said, "You know what, there's some illegal work going on in here. They have a dryer hooked up in the basement, so they tapped into the gas line."

And, I saw when that wrench came out, it looks like a big wrench contraption and they put it over... They start writing up paperwork. So, what they call that is a red tag. So, they started writing up the paperwork, and I had a lot of customers out the door. It was any Friday as normal. He said, "Well, get these orders out the door." And, he said, "Crank up your fryers." And, I said, "I can't crank them too high because everything will burn." So he said, "I'm going to let you get these orders out the door because we have to shut the gas off." He left for about maybe 15, 20 minutes, I thought maybe there was a resolve because I didn't see him for a while, and then more people came in.

And, the gentleman came back in, and he was like, "Oh, you're still cooking?" And I was like, "Well, I thought that you guys are going to let me know when you're going to shut the gas off." He was like, "We have to shut it off now. The building may blow up." So, I was like, "Okay. Cool." Although, I have some residual heat I had a couple more customers indoor, the oil was still hot. And so, I had a burner on on the stove, and he said, "I'll be right back." And then, when I turned around, all the pilots went out. And then, he came back and he's like, "I just have to double check that they're off." And I'm like, "Yeah, they're off. All the pilots went out." And, that was the end of my restaurant. I knew because, one thing in New York City, we don't have control over Con Edison or the city. There has been many gas explosions throughout the city. And, I just believe that there's a blessing in everything, and hindsight is definitely better than foresight. And, I'm just thankful on November 22nd, I didn't die.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, it's such a heartbreaking story. I mean, you put so much work into that place and I'm sure every restaurateur and restaurant employees out there has their heart in their throat just listening to that, because it was so out of your control. Fast forward, so listeners know what happened next. You still don't have a restaurant.

Millie Peartree: Still don't. This happened in November, here we are in August. Even throughout that whole process the landlord tried to sue me for non-payment of rent, because they were upset that the New York Times did a story. I heard that firsthand from one of their employees. I was going into a litigation with them. Right before New York City shut down due to COVID, my lawyer died. And, my councilman reached out to me, my congressman, even my senator. I've been in communication with them, they've reached out to me. So, what I would have hoped was, once their lawyers reached out to me, because I didn't have a legal representation because there's a lot going on. Court to close and everything of that nature, like I said, my attorney passed away. I would have been hopeful that they would have come back and did the right thing by me.

Kerry Diamond: One of the remarkable things about you is all this happened to you and you still persisted. I mean, it was incredible. At that period, that's when you and I got to know each other. And, I was amazed that you just immediately picked up the pieces and continued working, continued serving your customers. Can you tell us what you did work-wise after that?

Millie Peartree: Well, shortly after that, of course, the first day it didn't really bother me as much, because like I said, I was really tired. So, it didn't set in until the next day or so. I was able to relax, and then later on that Saturday, it slowly started to sink in. I'm not going to act like I didn't cry. I'm not going to act like I wasn't emotional. I'm not going to act as if I didn't try to reach out to my landlord to resolve the issue. And, I always been a person that I'm able to pivot and be flexible. So, what I did was, I opened it back up, I reached out to some clients, and I was like, "Look, I'm available to come to your houses. I'm available for private parties, whatever it is that you guys need me to do."

And, I just want to backtrack a little bit, I felt not necessarily bad for myself. I had an employee, she was eight months pregnant, just for her to work so hard throughout her whole entire pregnancy, to lose her job. Do you know how heartbreaking that was? I was in people's homes, I was able to bring her along, she was still energetic to continuously work, and then COVID happened. And I said, "Lord, what are you trying to tell me or show me?" The events started to cancel. And originally, we didn't really know what was going on. It was like, "Well, is it a virus?" I thought it was like when H1N1 happened. Unfortunately, two people lost their lives. But, I didn't think that this was going to happen. I thought that we're on high alert, the government's going to figure out... Well, I didn't put too much trust to our government, but that's a story for another day.

But, I honestly thought that we're going to get this under control. There's going to be maybe a couple weeks, we're going to figure it out. The doctors are going to maybe have... Doctors may already have a medicine or something. My mind was racing when COVID happened. It was like, "Well, what's really going on?" And then, when those numbers started to hit, I said, "Oh my gosh, this is real." And, that was again another pivot. So, it's tough, but we have a sound, mind and body. And, I think that's one of the blessings of everything, is our ability to have our mind work in a fashion of not being selfish. Everything was selfless. So, the more I thought about other people, the more I was able to try to make things better for other people as well as help my community.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, you said God was trying to tell you something. What do you think that was?

Millie Peartree: I honestly feel like I found my purpose. God in general was trying to tell me that, "You know what, your life has purpose. I'm going to use you as a vessel to make other people happy." So, when people ask me, "Would you ever open up another restaurant?" Part of the answer is, I never say never, but for the immediate future the answer is no. It was a great experience, and I believe that there's a lesson and blessing in everything. But I feel like moving forward, Millie's goal is to help other people. I think that one thing that I'm really good at...

In life, we can identify our strengths and weaknesses, which I'm really good at. And, I feel like within myself, my strength and my talent is better suited to help other people. So, I'm always conscious of how can we get somebody back to work? How can we get somebody fed? What are you feeling? As you know, I do my wellness checks, like "How are you today? What's going on?" I just feel like moving forward this is my purpose to help people. So, I think that was the lesson and the blessing, and what I'm being used for to help better my community.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, I know your mom was a big inspiration on you. And, you mentioned her earlier, and that you lost her very young. What is it about service and helping others that your mother taught you?

Millie Peartree: Well, I remember throughout my whole entire childhood, my mom was the person if you needed to borrow a couple of dollars, you went to Miss Peartree. If you needed any help or something, you went to Miss Peartree. Even when my late uncle had his church... I'm pretty sure you can Google it. There's a New York Times article with my mom giving out a loan. She took out a loan to help my uncle build a church, she went to Chase. And, she was just always that giving person. I mean, she was tough as nails, don't get me wrong. Just one of those people like, don't cross her, but she had the biggest heart. So, I think a lot of what I embody comes from her, because I saw how hard she worked and how much she loved people. She may not have said it often, but she showed it. That's why I'm a person like, it's not about the words, it's about the action. And, that's one thing that she showed me in my 25 years on this Earth, is everything is an action is not what you speak, is how you're about it.

Kerry Diamond: That's amazing. I'm sorry, I didn't get to know your mother. Do you still make some of her recipes?

Millie Peartree: Absolutely. Well, the macaroni and cheese was, I guess, adapted from her. I remember her putting more butter in it. If I could recall, I remember her putting more eggs in it. A lot of my recipes are adapted from her. It was never like she kept a cookbook, or a box of cards or something, everything was just pretty much hands on. So, I think that's the reason why I have the hands on approach. I like to get in there and try to ask questions. And, I ask a lot of questions like, "Where is this from?" Everything is a conversational piece.

So, even like I said, when I ask questions about recipes, and when friends of mine are making things, or when I'm intrigued by a specific culture, I always want to know, "Well, why did you make that? Where did that come from? Is that something that you ate in childhood, that your taste buds adapt once you got older." Because a lot of things I eat now I would have never thought of eating when I was younger. Just think about Brussels sprouts, I used to see them. I don't remember my mom ever making them, but I wouldn't try them. I did eat a lot of cabbage growing up, but it's one and the same. So, I'm more of a hands-on type of girl when it comes in. I'm very inquisitive, I should say. Not nosy, inquisitive.

Kerry Diamond: So what's left on your wish list Millie? Cookbook, travel, once we get to travel again.

Millie Peartree: Definitely a cookbook. I've been speaking to some folks about that. I would love to continue my nonprofit initiative which I'm currently working on. I would love to... In a perfect world, I'd love to have a whole entire building, where it's dedicated to teaching, learning, an incubator space for up and coming entrepreneurs. Continuing to fill the hunger gap within children in Brown and Black communities, disenfranchised communities. In this building, I want a temperature controlled floor where we can package goods, and we'll create recipe cards. So, people can actually learn how to make food on their own. You teach a man to fish he'll eat for a lifetime, so that's how I'm going to try to operate moving forward.

And last, but most important, I want to become super rich. Black, Martha Stewart rich, B. Smith rich, financially and emotionally. Emotionally because being rich in that aspect, it makes me feel whole. It makes me feel like I have purpose. Monetarily rich, because I want to be able to show people within my community what it's like to have a job with a salary, paid time off, sick leave. I'm tired of us working check to check. It's very hard to see people struggle and say, "You know what, I don't know." People that, they pay off the books because they could pay them less, but then when they're in a situation like this, they can't collect unemployment because they have no record of them ever working.

So, if you can pay somebody a livable wage, that salary base, and give them time off to have a baby, or give them time off just to clear their mind. Because I'm always about, there's no substitution for peace of mind, and give people the flexibility to be able to enjoy life outside of work. That's my goal. That's what I really want to be able to have for people that look like me, that sound like me, that act like me. And most importantly, came to this country, whether migration, immigration, or just being here, and living in poverty to say, "Millie helped me." And, they can pay it forward, and then we can be in a better situation for generations to come.

Kerry Diamond: Millie, you're amazing. I have a feeling though, if you were Martha Stewart, you would probably give all your money away.

Millie Peartree: I mean, you know what it is, I had great jobs. I'm not going to lie. I was a personal assistant to Naomi Campbell, I was a personal assistant to Nas. Great people, you get to travel internationally, you could stay on boats, you get to fly on private jets. I got a chance to experience that life through them. So, it's not like I need that life for myself, if that makes sense. I was able to make money and buy myself some extravagant things, things that mean absolutely nothing to me now when I'm feeding people. I haven't purchased anything in three years to be perfectly honest. I bought a pair of jeans maybe a month ago, and the jeans are still sitting in the bag, the American Eagle bag that they came in.

I just feel like I operate under, bring a bag and take a bag out. I do the same thing with food now. I don't really have food waste in my house any longer. I mean, I made some guacamole a couple days ago, and I made sure I ate it until it was gone. So, I'm just more or less on... It's great to experience certain things. Don't get me wrong, we do need money to survive, I'm not going to lie, I'm not going to negate that fact. But, I want people to be able to be happy. Like I said, that lifestyle wasn't mine, but I got to experience it through fortunate human being. So, if I can actually create that lifestyle for myself, and be able to offer it to someone else, that's the blessing at the end of the day, because my mom used to say, God rest her soul, "I've never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse."

Kerry Diamond: That's a good saying. Well Millie, I hope all of this happens for you and more. I just feel really fortunate that I've gotten to know you over the past year, and you're a remarkable person, and you just make everybody want to be a better person. So, thank you.

Millie Peartree: Thank you so much for having me. I think that we're all here for a reason and a season. I'm just going to continue to do the work. And, we're not going to say, if it happens, is when it happens. I'm about speaking positive things into an existence. And, I want to let all your listeners know that we are all the embodiment of infinite possibilities. We are all in a rough spot right now, but continue to foster those relationships with your loved ones, continue to reach out to one another on social media. That's how I met a lot of people. I think that's the way you and I became friends through social media. And, there is definitely... I promise you there's definitely light at the end of this tunnel.

Kerry Diamond: That's it for today's show. Thank you so much to Millie Peartree for joining us today. If you're able, please support her Full Heart Full Bellies GoFundMe, and help continue her important work. Also, make sure to pick up the September issue of InStyle magazine. My interview with Millie is in that issue, and so is her mac and cheese recipe. Yes, InStyle has recipes, cooking is always in fashion. We know that. Thank you to Sonos for supporting today's show. Radio Cherry Bombe is edited by Kat Garelli. Our theme song is All Fired Up by the band Tralala. Radio Cherry Bombe is produced by Cherry Bombe Media. Hang in there everybody, and thank you for listening. You're the Bombe.

When Harry Met Sally... Clip: I'll have what she's having.

Parisa Parnian: Hi, my name is Parisa Parnian, of Savage Muse and Savage Taste. I am a visual artist, a chef and storyteller based in Los Angeles. But, mostly I consider myself to be a culinary and cultural uplifter. Do you want to know who I think is the Bombe? I think Chef Mahfam Moeeni-Alarcon of Mingle + Graze in Chandler, Arizona is the Bombe. I mean, as a first generation Iranian immigrant and small business owner, Mahfam has done an amazing job of pivoting, and keeping her newly launched cheese shop and eatery afloat during these incredibly challenging times. And, she's done it by providing food to frontline and essential workers, and offering the comforting flavors of her Persian heritage and her husband's Chilean heritage to her local community, all with an infectious and gracious smile. Mahfam also happens to be my cousin, and a bright light in all of our family's lives.