Chef Patience Clark, owner of Palate Pleasures, learned about the power of cooking as she grew up on the south side of Madison where her great-grandma, Louise Dunlop, who owned a house on Fisher Street for over 60 years, would make delicious Sunday dinners to feed family and friends.
“My grandmother has been my cooking inspiration. And my grandfather, Roy Dunlop, he used to be a chef at UW-Madison,” Clark tells Madison365. “My grandmother – about three or four years ago – passed along all of his cookbooks to me so that I can customize my menus and make sure that all of my desserts are family recipes.
“My grandmother is where I got my idea for Sunday Dinners. Every Sunday, she would cook an extravagant meal for our family or for the community or for anybody who was hungry – they knew that they could come to 1710 [Fisher St.] and pick up a plate,” Clark continues. “That’s where the traditional Sunday meals come from. I made it ‘Chef’s Choice’ because that’s how grandma did it.”
Clark now hosts her own version of the traditional Sunday dinner that features comfort cuisines from around the world at her growing catering business, Palate Pleasures. Her journey started about five years ago getting inspiration from the late Chef Rod Ladson, the executive chef at Bonefish Grill on Madison’s west side, whom she built a friendship with while she was working as a server.
“Chef Rod definitely tried to get me to become a chef during the time that he was alive,” Clark remembers. “I had an interest in being a chef and having my own catering business and was training under my 96-year-old grandmother. I would learn techniques from her and then Chef Rod would teach me certain things I would need to know at the store.”
Ladson died very suddenly on July 13, 2018, at the age of 50. It was a huge and sudden shock to family, friends, and community members who loved the generous and beloved Madison chef, businessman, mentor, and selfless supporter of his community. It was right after his passing that Clark decided she would go all-in on her dream to be a chef.
“I did it in honor of him and I started my journey as a chef,” she remembers. “I started out doing small events for different friends and family and I turned it into a business and went and got my LLC.”
She decided to call it “Palate Pleasures.”
“One thing that Chef Rod used to say when he gave people food was, ‘Let me please your palate really quick.’ That was one of his favorite things to say at Bonefish Grille,” Clark says. “In honor of him, I named my business ‘Palate Pleasures.’”
She first started out by doing her grandma’s “Sunday dinners.”
“Starting on Thursday, people could go to my website and pre-order a meal for Sunday based on my catering menu,” Clark says. “What I found out is that people love Mexican food and people love southern food. So I created a Mexican and southern fusion menu. It has been doing amazing.”
Clark started out at a location in Monona but has recently moved on to Stoughton where she uses the Pancake Cafe as home base. “I have a partnership with them now and this weekend we will be featuring our Palate Pleasure cinnamon rolls on their menu. They are homemade and humongous. People are traveling to see if they are there yet. I think they are going to do very, very well,” she says. “The more people buy, the more they will be available.”
Clark is busy catering events and is now doing her Sunday dinners on Saturdays at the Pancake Cafe. “I’ve sold out every single Sunday for the last three months,” she says. “So that’s a blessing there.”
Clark says she will also be hosting cooking classes at the Pancake House soon. Clark and friends of hers are also starting an initiative called “Healthy Wednesday Wellness Days.”
“It will be three minority businesses – myself, Keena [Atkinson], a fitness instructor, and Pancake Cafe,” she says. “We’re going to be doing WERQ fitness class, I will be providing a healthy meal afterward and Drew [Ghelfi, owner of the Pancake House] will be providing meals for the children. And it will be sponsored by TDS.
“We will not only be bringing some diversity to that city, but bringing some wellness to our community, as well,” she adds.
Clark, like Chef Rod before her, who was famous for his volunteer work and donating his time and resources hostring healthy cooking demonstrations for the community, knows how important it is to be doing positive things in the community. Clark recently catered food for the 3rd Annual Juneteenth Soul Food Brunch, for example.
“When Chef Rod passed away I got closer to Drew Ghelfi, who owns Pancake Cafe, and who worked directly under Chef Rod for two and a half years. So a lot of the quotes and sayings that Chef Rod instilled in me that I’ve been missing, when Drew and I partnered up, I feel like I got all that back,” Clark says.
“One thing that we try to do is to make sure we are there for our community because Chef Rod, number one, would want that, and two, we’re minorities in this community who are making strides that a lot of minorities in Madison have not been able to make,” she continues. “I would definitely say that Chef Rod has a lot of influence when it comes to the way I handle business, the way I engage with my customers and the way I want everyone to know me and feel like family. I want them to know that they can come to me for anything.
“Chef Rod catered my wedding for free knowing me for a year and a half. That is pretty cool,” she adds. “So, I have to pay it forward to others in my community and I’m getting my inspiration from Chef Rod.”
While Palate Pleasures makes historical and traditional comfort dishes from around the world, Clark says her specialties are her birria tacos and her shrimp and grits. You can check out all of her offerings on Facebook, Instagram or at Palate Pleasures website.
“The ‘Chef’s Choice’ type of meal that I do … that’s one concept that not a lot of restaurants and caterers have in Madison,” Clark says. “There are not many people who can sell out and say, ‘This is what I want to cook. I want to put it on the menu and it still sells out.’ I definitely feel like my grandma’s touch is with me, for sure.”
Clark says she wants people to enjoy her food because it’s both healthy and delicious.
“I love helping my community find alternatives to comfort cuisine that is not high in cholesterol and fat,” she says. “We can still eat good but also eat a little healthier.
“If you bite into my food and you are quiet and your eyes are rolling to the back of your head … you are like ‘Oh, my God.’ That’s what I love to see,” she adds. “We usually tell you to take your socks off because we are going to knock them off anyways. I get my satisfaction from making people happy and content.”