Cork, an offshoot of the Waterbury wine bar and market, occupies the space on School Street in Stowe that housed the Blue Moon restaurant for almost 25 years. The renovated space, in its many shades of cool gray and white, is one of my favorite spots to drink good wine (try new ones, too), have a snack and a conversation. It’s where I first met Jimmy Kalp, a local chef who has worked in town at some of Stowe’s most beloved restaurants, including the Blue Moon and Frida’s, for over 15 years.
I wanted to talk shop and sauce—tomato sauce. I first tasted Jimmy’s marinara at Sauce, a to-go Italian café on the Mountain Road where Jimmy worked in the kitchen, preparing beautiful, simple Italian-American food. Sadly, the shop closed after less than a year in business. Jimmy’s sauce put all of the other tomato sauces in my life to shame. I could have eaten it with a spoon, straight, for dinner. It was a sauce made with care, and I wanted to know who cared so much about making good sauce.
When Jimmy and I sat down in early March, in a part of Cork that used to hold two- and four-top tables when the space was the Blue Moon, Jimmy kept saying “Wow. Wow!” This was a space that Jimmy probably knew as well as his own house, and where he’d probably spent about as much time during his eight years as the restaurant’s head chef.
Jimmy and his wife, Laura, a Spanish teacher at Stowe High School, tried to go into Cork the previous summer right after the space opened but stopped just short. During our chat, Jimmy often turned toward the kitchen and said that he wanted to get a look inside. Like old times, the front door still did not quite close when someone left. He chuckled. He said that he spent a lot of hours tinkering with menus at the bar.
Jimmy grew up in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania, and entered Penn State wanting to be a gym teacher. This makes sense. He’s tall and looks strong—good traits for teaching gym or, it turns out, work- ing 14-hour days cooking. Soon, though, Jimmy realized that he was not invested in his schoolwork. He described the moment he decided to pursue cooking. “I had this idea that going to four years of college was the mold,” he said. “I was sitting on my friend’s deck and asked, ‘What am I doing?’” He thought about what he was naturally drawn to. Cooking. “On the weekends, I cooked all of the meals for my friends.” Cooking was what Jimmy had been doing, and enjoying, since he was a child. “Every Sunday growing up, I rolled out pasta with my mother, drying the strands on racks. I can still remember the smell of the flour and the simmering sauce. I never thought I could actually cook for a living.” Jimmy dropped out of Penn State and enrolled in a culinary program at Keystone State where he graduated summa cum laude.
Since college, Jimmy has worked in some high-end “white chef hat” joints. He also worked at a beach resort cooking for 4,000 people a day. Eventually, in late 2000, he made his way to Vermont, and to Stowe, where he got his first job at the Blue Moon by walking to the back kitchen door, résumé in hand, and figuring it out from there.
Jimmy and his wife live in Wolcott on a homestead with their two sons, Quinn and Charlie. They have bees, chickens for eggs and meat, plus a garden that’s grown to the same square footage as the Blue Moon. It started, Jimmy says, like some of his other successful ventures—kind of by chance and fueled by hard work and curiosity. He and Laura were sitting on their porch and said: “You want to start a garden?” Off they went to Menard’s for shovels.
When I met Jimmy back in March, he was settling in to his less intense work schedule. He’d been taking catering jobs when it suited him, building his garden and helping Laura prep and package their homemade products—eggs, honey, fresh pasta and mint-and- chamomile tea—for the local farmers’ market. Starting this summer, though, he has changed course. Jimmy decided to get back to his Stowe roots. He saw that Cork was looking for kitchen help, and he reached out. “It was getting back into the space earlier this year that inspired me,” Jimmy says. “After visiting there for the first time, my eyes were opened a bit. I felt more comfortable. I guess the building just feels like home.” Jimmy started work as a line cook at Cork in June, and he’ll be there part time throughout the summer. “I want to enjoy the summer with my kids and wife as much as possible,” he says. The job at Cork will give him the chance to do what he loves at home and with his family and work out his kitchen creativity.
Danielle Nichols, who owns Cork in Waterbury and Stowe, says that Jimmy is the perfect fit for the Cork team. “His glowing attitude and sense of self were contagious,” she says. “Given the seasonal na- ture of Stowe’s resort community, Jimmy’s desire to balance family life with his passion for cooking gives us the benefit of having his talent on board without having to add another full-time position. With Jimmy in the kitchen, we plan to add more entrée-size plates to the menu, allowing customers to enjoy a meal.”
“I’ve realized that things don’t have to be so cookie cutter and that I am willing to be creative,” Jimmy says. “My family and I—we’re doing okay. I like how full circle this all is. I really feel like all of my different jobs have kind of guided me to this place.”