ELDERSBURG — Sitting in the corner of a busy Starbucks, chef Jeffrey Perri explained that he wants to open a Culinary Academy for the Deaf in Carroll County because he has always wanted to become an educator.
"I want to create a place to better train deaf culinarians and prepare them for future placements in restaurants, hotels, schools, resorts and hospitals," said Perri, who is deaf himself, through interpreter Steve Frank. "I want to discipline their talents into perfection, focusing on five-star entrees and five-star flavors."
Perri, of Sykesville, is one of five finalists in this year's Carroll Biz Challenge who will compete in the Live Finale next week.
The fourth annual Carroll Biz Challenge showcases Carroll County entrepreneurs during a show similar to "Shark Tank" for local startups on Thursday at the Carroll Arts Center, according to Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin. The winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize to apply to his or her business costs. One finalist will win the $500 People's Choice Award, and one of the original 25 applicants will be awarded the $2,000 Downtown Award.
Perri said he applied for the challenge because it motivates him to take the academy from an idea to a reality. He said he has done a lot of research but needs to have the resources to get started.
"If I win the $5,000, I would divide it into three categories," Perri said. "I want to pay a professional to write a business plan, look for further grants and set up a media program to engage prospective students."
Jason Stambaugh, a member of the Biz Challenge's advisory panel, said the finalists were scored on overall creativity, product and service clarity; market potential; competitive landscape; sustainability; strength of the management team; and community contribution.
"It's a very unique concept for a niche market," Stambaugh said of the Culinary Academy of the Deaf.
Denise Beaver, Carroll County Economic Development's deputy director, is also a member of advisory panel.
"This new business creates a unique workforce training program opportunity and expands career options for the deaf; it meets an unmet need for this population," Beaver said.
Perri, who is a member of the American Chef Federation, said he was one of the top students at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona. In 2001, he was the first deaf student to graduate from the school.
"During my years of culinary school, I mastered my trade but one thing I realized was that deaf people do not have equal access to culinary programs," Perri said.
Perri hopes to enroll students from deaf high schools and deaf mainstream schools by actively recruiting and creating relationships with vocational rehabilitation agencies like the Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services.
"I want them to know that after they graduate, this program is an option for them," Perri said.
Perri, who is originally from California, said he moved to Carroll County two years ago to be with the woman he loves, Marylander Crystal Sullivan. With more than 10 years experience as a chef, he became the culinary production department supervisor for Johns Hopkins Hospital. Two months ago, he took a job as a sous chef at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
"A lot of my experience has been hands-on, not so much verbal communication," Perri said.
Perri has also taught American Sign Language courses and produced instructional cooking videos in ASL. He starred in "Tomato Chef," a video on heart healthy cooking, and "Food Signs," a DVD on ASL for the kitchen, in 2002. Perri was also featured in "Spice Up!" an eight-DVD series which features special menus, in 2007.
"Being a culinary teacher is something I always wanted to do," he said. "I love food and I want to pass on my knowledge."
Perri said he thinks Carroll County is the ideal location for the academy.
"It has lots of opportunities for culinary school graduates. There are several bed-and-breakfasts in Sykesville and opportunities at the Springfield Hospital Center," Perri said.
He also hopes to form relationships with Carroll County farmers.
"I want my students to understand the importance of local food," Perri said.
Perri said he would like the academy to include hearing students as well as deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
"I want to connect cultures through culinary arts," Perri said.
Carroll Biz Challenge finalists:
During the week, the Times profiled each of the finalists for the 2015 Carroll Biz Challenge.
Monday: Andrew Wetten of Carroll County Farm Fresh
Tuesday: Lisa Martin and Clare Hoerl of Create Outside the Box
Wednesday: Ryan Herbstsomer of Autumn Summer Woodcraft
Thursday: Scott Jendrek of Patapsco Distilling Co.
Friday: Chef Jeffrey Perri of the Culinary Academy of the Deaf
If you go:
What: The Carroll Biz Challenge Live Finale
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19
Where: Carroll Arts Center, 91 W. Main St., Westminster
Cost: $25 adults, $10 ages 7-12, free age 6 and younger. Purchase tickets by Nov. 17
More information: carrollbizchallenge.startuplocal.biz