Cooking with heart: RCS chef says job “given to me by God”

Radjou cooking

From the Spring 2016 Celtic Newsletter:

The chime of the lunch bell still echoes in the hall when the first frantic student hits the cafeteria door. Boys and girls alike are hot on his heels, all angling to get to the lunch line. Teachers and staff — typically respectful of “first-come, first-serve” — exert executive privilege and elbow their way to the front. All want to be sure they get their serving of today’s menu.

Like a scene from Oliver, the first child hands his tray to server Rita Madera and says eagerly, “Tikka, please.”

“With na’an or no?” Rita asks.

“Oh with, please. With!”

And so the monthly chicken tikka masala rush begins.

How did an Indian dish become the favorite food at a school founded by Scots-Irish Catholics?

Meet Peter Radjou.

RCS chef Peter Radjou won the 2016 Baconfest Virginia and will compete in the World Food Championships Nov. 10-13 in Orange Beach, Ala.
RCS chef Peter Radjou won the 2016 Baconfest Virginia and will compete in the World Food Championships Nov. 10-13 in Orange Beach, Ala.

Since 2012, Peter has been raising the bar and children’s palettes as Roanoke Catholic School chef. Beef lomein, baked rotini, stir fried pork — and of course the tikka — are examples of Peter’s daily menus. Even the challenging season of Lent, when many Catholic schools default to fish sticks and fries, finds Celtic students enjoying dill-crusted salmon, braised tilapia with lobster sauce, shrimp etouffee and shrimp creole over rice.

Though he has cooked in hotels and cruise ships all over the world, has opened restaurants in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and today owns with wife Sara the popular Taaza Restaurant in Grandin Village, Peter insists, “This is my best job ever. It was given to me by God. I have had more satisfaction here than anywhere else.”

*     *     *

Until 2012, serving lunch to Catholic school kids was never in Peter’s career plans.

A culinary school graduate, Peter began his career working in hotels in his native India and the Republic of Maldives. From 1989 to 1992 he worked in the kitchens of Carnival cruise ships sailing through Caribbean islands and off the Mexican coast. In 1992 he married Sara, who dreamed of moving to the United States. Settling first in Manassas and then Maryland, Peter and a partner opened restaurants in College Park and Washington, D.C.

In 2002 Peter moved to Roanoke to start a contract operating Elephant Walk in the Tanglewood Holiday Inn. A year later, Sara and their two daughters, Cathy and Alice, joined him. In 2006 Peter decided to open his own Indian restaurant, Taaza, on Franklin Road. He asked Sara to manage it, much to her surprise.

From left: Cathy, Peter, Sara and Alice Radjou
From left: Cathy, Peter, Sara and Alice Radjou

“I’d been a kindergarten teacher in India, but when we moved to Roanoke I was working for NBC Bank and Suntrust,” she recalls with a laugh. “Then Peter one day says we’re going to open Taaza and I’m going to manage it. He says, ‘What you do at home you’re going to do there.’”

For a few years, the restaurant business was good for the Radjous. So much so they felt comfortable enrolling Cathy, then an 11th grader, and Alice, in 6th grade, in Roanoke Catholic. Friends at Our Lady of Nazareth had encouraged them for some time to do so.

“We didn’t like the way the public schools were going,” says Sara. “Only doing SOLs … and the friends’ circles … the dress code. But the main reason was we both had Catholic school for our education. We knew how Catholic education worked and we wanted our kids to have it.”

But the Great Recession, coupled with a troubling catering contract Peter had entered into with a local country club, conspired to make 2011-12, in Peter’s words, “the worst year of our lives.” His restaurants suffered heavy losses. He gave up control of the College Park and D.C. restaurants to his now former business partner.

“We wouldn’t wish our worst enemies to go through that,” says Sara.

Distraught over his failing businesses, Peter one day found himself at Our Lady of Nazareth, kneeling before the statue of Mary and praying the Rosary through tears streaming down his face. “Why is this happening?” he asked himself again and again.

He finished his Rosary, got into his car and picked up his cell phone to discover he’d missed a call from Roanoke Catholic. The voicemail was from Patrick Patterson, principal and head of school: “Mr. Radjou,” the message began, “I understand you’re in the food and beverage business. I’d like to talk to you about an opening we have here.”

Recounting the story, Sara is now the one to weep. “It was God’s plan that we do this.”

Not all in the family initially appreciated the news. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh no!’” says Alice, then a 7th grader. “‘Now there’s going to be someone there who is going to be looking over me, who will be talking to all my teachers about me.’ But once he started cooking, everyone loved him. It’s nice to have him here.”

The school feels the same. “We’d never enjoyed a consistently profitable cafeteria until Peter Radjou,” says Patterson. “His knowledge of service to customers, minimizing waste, and the dining industry in general has led to Roanoke Catholic having a fabulous cafeteria.”

More importantly, Patterson notes, the Radjous are a witness to faith. Devoted Our Lady of Nazareth parishioners, the Radjous each Christmas season prepare a holiday feast for homeless men, women and children served by The Rescue Mission. Every Tuesday, both Peter and Sara pray the Rosary in the St. Andrew’s Church chapel before filing into the sanctuary with all RCS students to attend school Mass. “We want our children to see our employees and support staff at Mass demonstrating their faith,” says Patterson.

Peter is also the first call for Roanoke Catholic catering or fundraising events: Book Fair dinners supporting the library; the school’s Donor Appreciation Reception last fall at Center in the Square; Lenten fish fries and St. Patrick’s Day Dinner for the Ancient Order of Hibernians; bitty basketball awards breakfast; Thanksgiving pie sale for the swim team; and on and on.

“As a parent and volunteer, there couldn’t be two more genuine, hard-working and kind people,” says Barbara Andes, who chairs the school’s Book Fair. “They are an asset to Roanoke and our school.”

The Radjous also host fundraising dinners at Taaza (which in January relocated to Grandin Village), devoting a portion of proceeds back to the school. And Peter is leading two weeks of culinary camps this summer for middle and high school students as part of RCS’ first-ever summer camp program.

Says Peter, “When I was at my lowest point, the school helped me, so I want to always give back to the school.”

Lisa Smith tapped as new RCS upper school academic advisor

Lisa SmithRoanoke Catholic is pleased to announce that Lisa Smith, who has worked as the school’s guidance counselor since 2012, will assume the responsibilities of upper school academic advisor.

In her new position, Lisa will assist 8th-12th graders with scheduling and course selection; coordinate PSAT, Advanced Placement, SAT, ACT and other college testing; and guide seniors through the college application and scholarship process.

“I am so excited about working again with high school students,” she says. “I have always had an interest in high school students and I’ve missed being part of their lives.”

Lisa received her undergraduate and Master of Arts in Education degrees from Virginia Tech. She worked as RCS upper school guidance counselor from 2000-2002 before taking time off for several years to raise three children. Her husband, Trey, is a partner at Gentry Locke law firm.

In 2012, she returned to RCS as a part-time guidance counselor, a position she will continue along with upper school academic advisor.

“I am very approachable and I want people to feel free to come to me,” she says. “I have a daughter who is a high school sophomore, so I have a personal passion for guiding students through this exciting and, truth be told, daunting time in their lives. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

Roanoke Catholic hosts “Catholic Heart Workcamp”

CHWCMore than 200 Catholic youths from four states are calling Roanoke Catholic School home this week as part of “Catholic Heart Workcamp.”

Hailing from Connecticut, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland, the 230 teens and adult chaperones spend their mornings and evenings at Roanoke Catholic eating, sleeping, showering and worshiping in preparation for their daytime volunteer service at more than a dozen social agencies throughout the Roanoke Valley: Feeding America, Rescue Mission, Madonna House, Apple Ridge Farm, Bradley Free Clinic, and St. Gerard and St. Elias Catholic churches, to name a few.

The volunteer teams are also building wheelchair ramps, fixing porches and handling other home repairs for low-income adults through Renovation Alliance.

“We are honored to be part of this annual event that brings faith-filled Catholic youth from around the country here to Roanoke to learn and serve,” says Beth Derringer, director of campus ministry at Roanoke Catholic.

IMG_1501The mission of Catholic Heart Workcamp is to share the love of Christ by serving the neglected, brokenhearted and marginalized, and to inspire participants to live as disciples of Christ. This summer, 13,000 youth in over 50 different cities will participate in Catholic Heart Workcamp.

RCS chaplain Fr. Matt Kiehl’s “rock paper tweets”

Fr. Matt

“Never thought there’d be a time when I couldn’t wait for school to begin! @RoanokeCatholic just isn’t the same!”

So tweeted Fr. Matt Kiehl a few weeks ago.

As RCS chaplain, Fr. Matt serves as spiritual advisor for the school’s 550 students, faculty and staff, presiding over weekly Mass and reconciliation, observing senior apologetics presentations, and visiting classrooms on a regular basis. (He’s also an expert lunchtime “rock paper scissors” player with kindergartners.)

Raised in the world of social media, Fr. Matt is equally adept at staying in touch with the school community outside of class time. Under the handle @mattkiehl, Fr. Matt is known for his funny, oftentimes touching Twitter tweets and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Fr. Matt Kiehl tweets


SUMMER CAMPS at Roanoke Catholic School

RCS Summer Camp logo

Have we got a summer in store for you!

Roanoke Catholic School has created 45 fabulous summer experiences for rising preschoolers through 12th graders.

  • ARTS: Drama, Creative Writing, Fashion, Tap Dancing, Print-making
  • LIFE SKILLS: 3-D Printing, Cooking with Chef Radjou
  • ACADEMIC: SAT Boot Camp, Algebra Basics, Science Discovery
  • SPORTS: Karate, Basketball, Soccer, Football
  • JUST FUN: Girl Power, Butterfly Princess, Jungle Adventure & More!

Camp Info Button




3 events to enjoy for RCS St. Patrick’s Day festivities

Roanoke Catholic School invites you to join one — or all! — of its St. Patrick’s Day festivities:

Saturday, March 12, 8:30 AM

shamrock run

Shamrock Hill 5K & 1-mile Fun Run

$30 thru March 1; $35 after. RCS families: $20/person thru March 1.

Saturday, March 12, 6:30 PM

Ancient Order of Hibernians’ St. Patrick’s Day Dinner

Tickets: $15 in school office or clicking link below. Proceeds benefit RCS. Attendees automatically entered into drawing for $1,500 scholarship toward 2016-17 tuition!


Thursday, March 17, 10 AM


St. Patrick’s Day Open House

Come see how Roanoke Catholic can benefit your family. We welcome students PreK(3) – Grade 12. New financial aid can cut your tuition in half, including PreK! Reserve your place: Contact Principal Patrick Patterson,

FCA seniors share their faith

IMG_2528Four Roanoke Catholic seniors — all athletes in our winter sports — shared their Christian faiths at today’s FCA breakfast: Brian Sakalas (wrestling), Danny Brajdic (swimming), Gabby Mclelland (girl’s basketball), and JJ Krajnik (boy’s basketball).

We’d like to share with you Gabby’s remarks:

I must admit that when I was asked to talk this morning, I had no idea what to even do or say. Because the pen may be mightier than the sword, but my basketball skills are mightier than my pen. Besides my struggle as where to even begin, I had to think about the direction and emotion I wanted to talk with. Should this be funny and lighthearted or serious and awe-inspiring? So I settled for just making it rhyme to make it a little more entertaining for everyone …

I have attended Roanoke Catholic since Pre-K
With Our Lord God guiding me day by day,
Though not at first, I had to find Him on my way.

I’ve always been a good student, with all As and maybe a B,
But hard studying in its entirety
Lacks goals, lacks purpose without influence from the Trinity

I learned that lesson quickly, and let God be my guide
So He can teach me by my side
In all my actions and choices that I decide

So I bring Him with me to the court and my game
To play with all my gifts and talents, not for fame
But to give it all back in His name.

1,000 rebounds, 1,500 points, my feats are not for me
They’re for my coaches, parents, and basketball family
To turn God’s plan into my reality

I’m not perfect, I have days where I’m off
Every shot is too strong, an air-ball too soft
I dribble off my own foot, or my passes weak and loft

But I don’t give up and turn my back
I will never quit and decide to slack
Because God is my fuel to help me attack

Those days where nothing seems to be going right
Blinded by my own pride, a slave to the night
Before I regain humility and find peace in the light

Every lay-up I take and jump ball I win
I do for Him, because I’m bound to sin
In my basketball game, or that of life, again and again

So I take off my shoes, pack up my bag, like a bball bum
Going wherever people will appreciate where I’m from
To take with them the new person they were meant to become.


Melissa Barnard tapped as new Roanoke Catholic enrollment director

RCS enrollment director Melissa BarnardRoanoke Catholic School is pleased to announce that resource specialist Melissa Barnard will become Director of Enrollment effective July 1.

In her new role, Barnard will work to promote Roanoke Catholic to prospective families; identify and recruit new students to the school; and develop initiatives to retain existing students.

“For the last couple of years, Roanoke Catholic enrollment has hovered around 475 students,” said Patrick Patterson, Principal and Head of School. “With a dedicated enrollment director – especially someone who is so passionate about our school as Melissa – we believe our student body will grow to more than 500, resulting in more tuition revenue and more offerings for our community.”

Barnard earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Psychology from Hollins College in 1991. She taught in Botetourt County and Roanoke County public schools from 1995 to 2013 when she joined Roanoke Catholic as a 1st Grade teacher. She later became the school’s Resource Specialist. She has one child enrolled at Roanoke Catholic.

Her work experience also includes event planning, advertising and membership sales for the Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce; and serving as a claims examiner at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Roanoke.

“My family has been so blessed to be part of Roanoke Catholic,” says Barnard, “and I’m both humbled and excited about this opportunity to make Roanoke Catholic even stronger.”

Introducing CELTICS CAREER CONNECT for alumni seeking summer jobs/internships

Celtics Career ConnectAttention Roanoke Catholic alumni in college or just out …

Trying to find a meaningful job or internship this summer to better prepare for your career? Let us help you!

Email us your resume, photo, and your objective. We’ll post your info on our website and promote you to our constituents via our weekly e-newsletters, social media channels, and print publications.

Email Michael Hemphill, Director of Marketing and the Annual Fund, at

CLICK HERE to connect with Celtics seeking career opportunities



Guilfoyle tapped as new Roanoke Catholic varsity lacrosse coach

Lacrosse GuilfoyleRoanoke Catholic School is pleased to announce the hiring of Frank Guilfoyle as our new varsity lacrosse head coach.

Most recently coach of RCS’ middle school boys lacrosse team, Guilfoyle inherits a varsity team that last year rose to No. 6 in the state and made the state playoffs with an 8-4 record including wins over North Cross, Hargrave Military Academy, Liberty Christian, William Byrd High School and Cave Spring High School.

“We have a good group of young men and a good program,” Guilfoyle said. “They ought to get a banner or two.”

Guilfoyle played lacrosse at the University of Notre Dame and has coached his sons — Gregory, Class of ’16, and Bryant, ’19 — in the sport. His daughters — Aidan, ’11, and Mairin, ’13 — were star volleyball players at RCS and currently play at the collegiate level.

Roanoke Catholic Lacrosse“Not only is Frank a wonderful lacrosse coach and leader of our young men, he has a deep and lasting commitment to Roanoke Catholic School,” said athletic director Matt Peck. “We are thrilled that he has agreed to take on this program and we’re confident RCS Lacrosse will reach even greater heights.”