Many of us in the business are comfortable cooking with grape leaves (think dolmas) and any number of herbs. But are perilla leaves in your wheelhouse? These broad, serrated aromatic leaves are a part of the mint family, native to the mountainous regions of Asia. Somehow, they found themselves in Northwest Arkansas, where APPCA member Kathy Dederich of Chef Please! Ltd. is based.

Kathy and her husband relocated to Bella Vista, Arkansas from Chicago. She brags that the region was listed as one of the top places to retire in the U.S. as well as one of the country’s safest cities. Just south is Walmart’s headquarters. Nearby is Tyson Foods and JB Hunt. The area has now reached a population of half a million and Kathy is proud that their food culture has evolved to the point that four local chefs have cooked at the James Beard House. One was a semifinalist.

Kathy has been cooking since she was a kid. Later, married and working at the family printing company, she enrolled in The Cooking & Hospitality school known as CHIC and later acquired by Le Cordon Bleu. She earned her degree with presidential honors and while still at the printing company first started cooking professionally for a friend from cooking school who was the in-house catering manager for a downtown law firm. The friend needed help serving outside catering clients, including Roger Ebert and, her all-time favorite, Ray Charles. The light bulb went off by then and Kathy has been a personal chef since 2007, when she joined APPCA and landed her first weekly client, a woman with Alzheimer’s Disease whose children wanted to keep her in her home. She was with them for over three years until moving to Arkansas.

Since then, she’s been thinking about how to incorporate some of the area’s indigenous ingredients into her dishes. Perilla leaves were an immediate go to.

perilla leaves close up

“Perilla leaves grow wild in the area,” she notes. “Usually I make Korean sesame leaves, which includes garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, sesame seeds, ground red pepper, and a bit of sugar. I use them as a carrier for rice. Some people eat it with meat.”

But it occurred to Kathy that they would be a terrific candidate for pesto. Instead of using pine nuts, she uses black walnuts–also native to the area–as well as local goat cheese in lieu of Parmesan.

perilla pesto

“The result is quite nice,” she says. “There is a lot of oil in the walnuts so not as much olive oil is needed. The perilla leaves are not nearly as strong as most mint, so it’s not overpowering.

Interestingly, Kathy uses the pesto primarily with rice instead of pasta because, she explains, Arkansas is one of the top rice producers in the country. She also includes sun-dried tomatoes from her garden, using–what else–the Arkansas traveler variety. Enjoy this as a side dish with chicken.

photo 5

Kathy has generously given us her recipe for all of us to enjoy:

Perilla Leaf Pesto
From Kathy Dederich

Ingredients
2 cups perilla leaves
1 cup black walnuts, toasted
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces goat cheese
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.

Perilla Pesto with Rice

What’s your favorite recipe that incorporates local ingredients?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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