2014 Coastal New England Rising Star Pastry Chef Melissa Denmark of Gracie's
194 Washington Street
Providence, RI 02903
- White Japanese Yam Custard, Maple Pecans, Brown Butter Shortbread, Pomegranate Jam, Crème Fraîche Ice Cream, and Wood Sorrel
Pre-teens are generally busier memorizing dance moves or morphing social dynamics, but Melissa Denmark somehow found time to memorize chocolate chip cookie recipes. An early and avid baker, Denmark was constantly reading cookbooks and applying what she learned in the kitchen. And with her father’s encouragement, she landed in a mentorship program at a high-end French restaurant during her final year of high school, leading to Johnson & Wales, where she graduated summa cum laude, and later work at The Ritz-Carlton in Florida.
From there, Denmark went on to work with a cake decorator in Maryland and for Bobolink Dairy Farm and Bakeyard in New Jersey. There she came to appreciate the importance of sustainability and using farm-raised foods, two themes of great importance at her current post at Gracie’s and Ellie’s Bakery in Providence. An American Culinary Federation Certified Culinarian, Denmark was also named one of Food & Wine’s “50 Best New Pastry Chefs” in the country.
I Support: Share Our Strengthwww.nokidhungry.org
Why: I commend the work done by Share Our Strength because they rally talented chefs from all over the country to contribute their time and share their craft at events to support the No Kid Hungry campaign. I find their mission of helping feed children in need to be extremely important. I have been honored to participate in a charity dinner with S.O.S. and it has been amazing to see so many generous people do what they love for such a
About: Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry and Cooking Matters campaigns are ending childhood hunger in America by ensuring all children get the healthy food they need, every day.
Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Pastry Chef Melissa Denmark of Gracie’s and Ellie’s Bakery – Providence, RI
Sean Kenniff: How’d you get your start?
Melissa Denmark: Baking was something that I always really enjoyed, it was never a career choice. I thought everybody came home and made cookies after school. In high school in Columbia, Maryland—there’s not a whole lot of culture, it’s a planned community—I staged at a French restaurant. I made ice cream and had a great time. I finished high school and my dad pushed me to pursue cooking. I went to Johnson & Wales’ 4-year pastry program. Finishing that up in 2010, I was already working at Gracie's, and they were looking to hire a fresh set of eyes, someone who was into sourcing sustainably and locally.
SK: How does the tasting menu come together at Gracie’s?
MD: Everybody comes up with an idea and gives support through feedback, there are no wrong answers. I’m always getting feedback from the whole kitchen, especially from [Chef Matt Varga]. It’s so seasonal here, so a lot of ingredients will overlap from menu to menu.
SK: Do you have a mentor?
MD: I learn from everyone around me, even from people I'm mentoring. I gain inspiration from mentoring people. Ellen [Slattery] is a source of inspiration, too, such wisdom.
SK: What’s your biggest challenge?
MD: Finding a balance and sharing time. I'm so invested in every project. The bakery is so new, it needs a lot of tweaking. I’ve been at Gracie's for four years; I have an assistant and an intern. At Ellie’s I have a team of bakers. We’re lucky because Providence attracts a lot of artisans and artists—it means my team is passionate about more than just food—art and music, too.
SK: How are you involved in the community?
MD: The culinary community here is very intertwined, we do a lot of events together. The farms here are nearby, a lot of the farmers stop by to show us what's new. We participate in the farmers market.
SK: Where do you see yourself in five years?
MD: Would love to have some thing like Bobolink Dairy [Milford, New Jersey]. In five years? I never pictured myself staying forever, but I’ll be here. I’m hooked, helping both businesses grow, and working on Ellen's next project. Ellie’s Bakery just opened last year .
SK: How did you get into bread baking?
MD: My first bread baking class at Johnson and Wales, I fell in love. In 2009, I interned at Bobolink. They had a wood-burning oven, I worked a lot outside…It was life-changing.