Chef Denise Fullmer is a chef instructor for The Culinary School of Fort Worth. We did a Q&A with her to get to know her a little better! Here’s what she had to say:
Why did you get started in the culinary field? What was your first job?
I am the youngest of five children, and I have two parents who love to entertain and love to feed other people, from feeding the homeless to just throwing parties. So, I was always helping as they prepared all of these things. And that’s when I knew that I liked the idea of feeding other people and entertaining, and I knew this was the career for me at a very early age. My first job was not until I was 14, but prior to that I took every summer school class I could get that had to do with food prep, cooking, cake decoration, baking, and food planning. Just two days after I turned 14, I got my first job working for Baskin Robbins as a cake decorator. At the time, they made all of their cakes on site before it became commissary. From there I learned about an apprenticeship program with the Arizona Biltmore, which was a five diamond resort and four star hotel.
Who are some of your biggest culinary inspirations?
Chef Seigebert Wendler was the chef that I worked under at the Arizona Biltmore, and he was just a phenomenal chef. We called him Ziggy…well, Chef Ziggy [laughs]. He had phenomenal work ethic and skills that were beyond compare. I also very much looked up to Julia Child. She was the only celebrity chef of my generation, and she wasn’t even a chef. She was ridiculed quite a bit by the professionals, but as we’ve come to learn from her, her ethics and work ethic were unmatched. There were so many others through the years, but those were the first two that really inspired me.
What are you most passionate about in the kitchen?
It depends on the day because all of it excites me. From working with fruits and vegetables and learning how those foods grow and can bring diversity to your diet to fancy soufflés or incredible, rich sauces on intricate plates with interesting elements – truly, each station of a kitchen is a passion for me. I often say that consumers eat first with their emotions and second with their eyes. So, it’s that emotion when people dine out that excites me. Whether they’re celebrating a birth or a wedding or if they’re dealing with a passing or a hard day at work, people usually eat with emotion. And if they’ve chosen your restaurant to complement that emotion that they’re going through, it means a great deal. If we’re serving a part of ourselves to you and you’re receiving it paired with the emotions that you’ve gone through that day, to me that’s a perfect pairing.
Do you still cook at home? If so, what are your go-to dishes?
I do still cook at home, except for the fact that my kitchen is still under construction. When my children are home, I’m usually cooking one of their favorite dishes. One of our go-to meals is a baked salmon with dill and honey mustard glaze, couscous, fresh asparagus, and fresh artichokes. I do a phenomenal baby back rib. Then I’ll sometimes do roast duck. I love to make fish often. If I’m cooking for just me, it’s often a lot of fresh vegetables and sometimes chicken on the side. I love to cook Mediterranean style meals for myself. When I have company, I go as fun and fancy as I can.
What made you want to get into teaching and what do you find most rewarding about it?
Teaching goes back to what inspires me the most – the passion that I was blessed to see in my training, I want to open those doors for students as well. I’ve had the blessings to have my career choices take me all over the United States and even overseas. I’ve been at venues that I never even dreamed of for myself. So to open those doors to students and then see their passion and excitement come through, makes my best come out. I want to make it fun and enjoyable. We used to have a saying in the kitchen that a half day of work was 12 hours because it’s a long day in the kitchen. We don’t have an 8 hour shift with a half an hour for lunch and two coffee breaks. That’s not how we work. So if you’re going to be there, it has to be an enjoyable environment. Since it’s creative, that makes it enjoyable for me, so if I can bring students into that same mindset then it is great. Everything a chef creates is an extension of themselves, so I am now given an opportunity to help these students learn how to best share themselves. It’s a gift that actually chokes me up. I don’t have to be their mentor or someone they remember, but I want to be someone who gives them the skills to build a really strong foundation. I am thrilled to be a part of the scaffolding that builds the high rise of their future.