Creating her own flavor one meal at a time

Next time you pick up a cookbook at the store, there’s a chance you might be looking to whip up a meal from one of south Charlotte’s own.

After searching all of the United States, the mother and daughter team of Mary Elizabeth Roarke and Chef Nicole Roarke selected 95 contributors and 175 recipes for their new “Cooking Across America: Country Comfort” cookbook. Before traveling to different areas the authors divided the United States into five different regions.

“We did research on the different regions, what the different regions would be known for and then as the recipes were coming in we selected the ones that highlighted particular ingredients from the areas,” Mary Elizabeth Roarke said.

While on their journey around the country they met Chef Sandra Mannaravalappil, a self-taught chef from south Charlotte, and asked her to come up with a recipe she felt represented North Carolina.  Mannaravalappil’s speciality is Italian food, but she decided barbeque, seafood, pork and grits were the best foods to show off the state.

But when it came to picking out the right barbeque sauce, she was met with a huge obstacle. “When you grow up in Kentucky, barbeque is just sauce in a bottle,” she joked.

After working on the recipe for a month she settled for barbeque bacon-wrapped shrimp over polenta cakes.

“I made every single person I knew come over and eat at least 75 variations,” Mannaravalappil said.  The only condition was those who ate the recipes had to give their honest opinion.

Mannaravalappil and her husband moved to Charlotte seven years ago because “the people were nice,” and two years ago she began working as a personal chef in the south Charlotte area.  She cooks for families, couples, does special events and teaches cooking lessons.

“I really like helping people because you think of the working parents for four kids who can’t cook dinner.  I come in and cook dinner for the week,” she said. “I’m more like an Italian mother that visits.”

While Mannaravalappil provided a recipe for an entrée, there also are recipes for appetizers, soups, breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, drinks and more in the book.  To help novice chefs, Mary Elizabeth and Nicole provided a “chef’s tips” section and each tip has a video to go with it online that can be used as a guide for those who are more visual learners.

Chefs who contributed to the book were asked to include a more personal aspect to their recipes.  “We encouraged anyone who wants to share a story with us.  What memories this particular recipe evokes.  Let us know the story behind the recipe,” Mary Elizabeth Roarke said.

Mary Elizabeth Roarke has worked to create many recipes books, so when she began this project she wanted to make it different than any other cookbook out there.  It was her idea to showcase different regions from all over the U.S.

“Out of all of the books I’ve done, this has always been my piece to bring to the table, the recipe collection,” she said.

Mannaravalippil, The South Charlotte Chef, can be contacted by calling 704-497-3800 or by emailing

Ciera Choate,

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