Interview with Coastal New England Rising Star Pastry Chef Melissa Denmark of Gracie’s and Ellie’s Bakery – Providence, RI

by Sean Kenniff
April 2014

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 [2013].

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.