THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: Veteran Cooks Up Success as Cheyenne Chef for Hire
Wyoming business owner tells her unique story through local, world cuisines
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jul 17, 2023
Chef Petrina Peart is the founder of Gaiya’s Harvest, a private chef service in Cheyenne. (Courtesy photo from Petrina Peart)
By Bob Wooley
Special to the Wyoming Truth
If you find yourself in Cheyenne with a dinner party to host — maybe serving up a feast of wild game to visitors from abroad — don’t worry.
Perhaps a romantic dinner for two, chock-full of plant-based delights, is more of what you had in mind? No problem. Petrina Peart’s got you covered.
From multi-course tasting menus to a luxury picnic (basket and all), this Wyoming transplant has created a growing business that provides what she calls a “bespoke, fine-dining experience” for clients, while accommodating all special diet needs. Add in the desire to make every client’s occasion as special as it can be, and you have Gaiya’s Harvest: Chef Peart’s modern and flexible approach to providing culinary and pastry services.
Peart, 37, is a force of nature. Her personality is infectious — overflowing with cheer and positivity in the best of ways when discussing her business.
Running Gaiya’s Harvest keeps Peart busy with three to four events per month and a clientele of 20 families for whom she does weekly meal prep and private parties. She also bakes and sells Wyoming Wheat Sourdough Focaccia at the Cheyenne farmer’s market from August through October. She makes cakes and desserts to order in summer and fall, caters small events in Cheyenne, offers private cooking classes, and if all that weren’t enough, somehow finds time to manage the Cheyenne Elks Lodge kitchen.
It’s a lot. But Peart takes it all in stride.
“When I started out, things were quiet — for like a whole year [during the pandemic] it was quiet,” she said. “So, for me, when the phone’s ringing, I’m thinking, ‘Opportunity. Let’s go.’”
Her skills haven’t gone unnoticed outside of Wyoming, either. Peart was recently chosen by the James Beard Foundation and the U.S. Department of State to be one of 80 chefs named to the American Culinary Corps. These chefs participate in programs on behalf of the State Department to foster cross-cultural exchange. Last summer, Peart appeared on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” where she challenged the legendary chef to a curried goat battle. She didn’t win, but called the experience “amazing.”
Long road to Cheyenne
Peart’s story, like many of the best American stories, didn’t begin in America at all.
Immigrating to the U.S. from Jamaica with her parents at age 9, Peart spent her childhood in New York and teen years in Maryland. Then, at the age of 18, with a desire to serve her adopted country and see the world, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
“I had dreams of going to Europe — seeing Italy — so I was happy to sign up,” she said. “We went through training, and eventually the day came when we got our orders. My friends got places like England and Hawaii and Italy. And I saw my orders, and they were for Cheyenne, Wyoming.”
At the time, she had no concept of where Cheyenne was located, having never traveled to the western part of the country. But Peart ended up loving her four years stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, where she worked in security forces. From there, she served a short stint in Turkey before the dream assignment of Italy finally came her way. Already a self-taught cook when she arrived at Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy, the two plus years she was stationed there convinced Peart to turn her passion for food into her next profession.
“I remember going to the farmer’s markets all of the time and the little osterias — eating sandwiches that were so simple but so delicious — and I started falling in love with food,” she said. “And I was falling in love with the feeling I would get spending the day preparing food.”
Peart said the happiness she found in creating something from scratch was surpassed only by the joy she felt watching friends and loved ones enjoy what she’d made. By the time she finished her tour of duty in Italy, Peart knew a career in food was her calling.
An oasis in the desert
In 2012, when Peart returned stateside and left the military after eight and a half years of service, she enrolled in culinary school in Las Vegas — Le Cordon Bleu campus — and earned an associate’s degree. As part of her graduation requirement, she worked an externship, and as luck would have it, a position at Sandals Resort in Jamaica was available. For six months, she reconnected with her childhood home while honing her culinary skills.
“It was so cool. I got to live at the resort and cook every day,” she said. “I even got to spend time with family while I was there.”
Next, Peart completed a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts at The Art Institute of Las Vegas and went to France to work as a stagiaire (similar to an intern) in a restaurant in a small village. Six months later, she came back to Las Vegas—and then the pandemic began.
While Peart’s plan to return to France to cook full time was disrupted, it didn’t derail her goal of preparing elevated menus for fellow foodies. She moved back to Wyoming armed with a business plan and determined to make her private chef company – Gaiya’s Harvest –work.
Peart said launching a business during the pandemic was difficult, but the time to think and plan helped her focus on the mission of getting delicious, quality food to the people. Starting with a plant-based menu in a pop-up eatery at the Paramount in Cheyenne, she said hard work, flexibility and word-of-mouth referrals helped grow the buzz and landed her opportunities to cater private dinner parties and small events. As the business has expanded, Peart has brought on a part-time employee and one stagiaire.
The pandemic also helped Peart stay connected to the world of food in unexpected ways.
“I took up gardening during that time,” she said. “I learned that I love the smell of fresh tomato plants. I’d never grown something from seed to something I could plate before that. So to actually get to slow down and get to have that experience was something I really fell in love with.”
What’s more, it connected her to the very essence of the food she’d been working with, by learning about soil health and growing cycles of vegetables that do well in Wyoming. Peart hopes to one day grow a large portion of what she cooks, reducing her operation’s impact on the environment while maintaining a tradition of using the freshest local and seasonal ingredients she can.
Although she eats a mostly plant-based diet, Peart happily cooks meals to satisfy everyone’s taste. And in Wyoming that means meat—maybe even her signature jerk bison tenderloin with a Wyoming Whiskey gastrique.
“That dish allows me to bring some of my Jamaican heritage and combine it with local ingredients,” she said.
On other occasions, a more authentic approach is key. For a recent client dinner, Peart’s menu featured what she called “A Taste of Wyoming.”
“For that dinner, I went fishing for rainbow trout in Crystal Reservoir,” she said. “I caught the fish myself. And not only did the food taste great, but there was a story to it. The story of how we live here.”
Like Peart’s story, it’s a uniquely American story. And it’s one she hopes to continue telling for a long time to come.