“I learned from watching them,” said Brown. “I would ask my grandma how to make her stuffing and she would say ‘a sprinkle of this and a sprinkle of that’ and I would tell her, my hand was smaller than hers so a sprinkle is a different amount!” she said fondly.
Brown has more than 15 years of experience in the food industry. After earning degrees in English and Poetry, she began a career in public relations for a local firm, but decided something was missing and went back to her roots. She earned her culinary certificate from a small school in La Mesa, Calif. and upon graduation got her start as a pastry chef at a Hyatt Regency hotel in La Jolla.
“I knew I had found my niche,” said Brown. “I liked cooking but thought it was so much more fun to go home smelling like cake batter.”
Brown went on to work as a pastry chef at a local casino, an Asian Fusion restaurant, and a Hawaiian restaurant before joining Vi at La Jolla Village in 2011.
“What I really like about Vi is that the residents are involved,” said Brown. “They will give me feedback and I’ll grow and change the menu. When you listen to their suggestions, it makes them so happy. It warms my heart.”
Brown starts her day at Vi at La Jolla Village at 5:30 a.m., preparing danishes and muffins for breakfast in the community’s restaurants, Café Biscotti, and at the care center. She and her pastry cook, Shella Galang, spend the early part of the week baking and preparing desserts for dinner and throughout the week they are brainstorming new ideas for the following week’s menus.
Brown loves making anything chocolate, and two of the resident favorites are her flourless chocolate cake, and brownies. She also offers gluten free and sugar free desserts, like pecan tarts, in addition to fruit-based treats to accommodate dietary restrictions.
Brown is focused on variety and innovation to create an exceptional experience for residents. Recently, she visited The Culinary Institute of America, along with other pastry chefs from Vi, to refresh her skills and gather new ideas. According to Sam Nano, Vi Corporate Director, Food and Beverage, her approach is working.
“Denise is setting the pace and the standard,” said Nano. “She is very creative with her desserts and how she presents them. She listens to what our residents like and finds ways to incorporate their feedback in new ways that make them happy.”