Walking through the Roanoke City Farmers Market with Billie Raper on a recent Friday was like being spotted with a celebrity.
The manager of Blues BBQ came outside to chat him up, as did a chef at 202 Market. Farmer Mark Woods said hello, and a woman in a sport utility vehicle on Campbell Avenue slowed down to wave enthusiastically from the driver’s seat.
“Hey, Billie!” she called. “We’re going to miss you!”
Raper heard that sentiment a lot after news got around that he was leaving his job as executive chef at Hotel Roanoke. By the time you read this, Raper will already be in southwest Florida helping to open a posh $70 million retirement community called The Terraces at Bonita Springs.
But Raper, 42, truly left a mark on our community. Through 18 years and multiple roles at the hotel, he reassured countless brides, put touches of perfection on banquets and galas, mentored many a young cook and established ties with local farmers.
All of this was done with a calm demeanor unlike the stereotypical image of a screaming, red-faced chef.
“Kitchens can be absolute places of chaos, and he really had a way about him of keeping everybody focused on the task at hand, with emotions and everything in check,” said Hotel Roanoke general manager Gary Walton . “No matter how tense things got, Billie seemed to always be pretty steady.”
To continue reading this column, please click here. At that link, you’ll also find Billie’s recipes for easy chicken and dumplings, as well as macaroni and cheese.
Did any of you know Billie? Got any stories or thoughts you’d like to share?