Washington State Chef's
Member Spotlight - September 2011
Denise Farkas grew older but not up in Phoenix, Arizona starting her first food service job at 15. She worked with a very talented group of caterers, eventually becoming manager of their deli operations at 17. After a few more years there she went on to work as a baker and cook in various locations for four years before moving to Washington, settling in Kitsap County. Denise worked in Seattle’s old St. Cabrini Hospital and the rockin’ little Cajun Corner in the Alexis Hotel. Every day she passed by the Sorrento Hotel, eventually working up the courage to ask for employment. She was hired by Executive Chef Barbara Figueroa as a gardé manager chef. Denise credits her approach to cuisine to Barbara and the folks she worked with there. ”It really was a great place to work and in the 90’s Seattle had a culinary renaissance. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland and I constantly took notes and wrote down anything I did not understand, then studied my copies of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) cookbook and Larousse Gastronomique every night on the ferry ride home. I lugged those two enormous books everywhere!”
After securing a job in the Navy club system in Kitsap County (avoiding the daily commute to Seattle), Denise worked at Subase Bangor, then Navy Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for a total of 10 years. Denise credits others for support and freedom to experiment. “Curtis Miller, who was the Executive Chef at Bangor, encouraged us to try new things and we looked at dishes and influences from chefs and restaurants around the country.”
She started a popular Kids Summer Cooking program at Bangor. “We taught the kids how to prepare a variety of menus such as a healthy picnic lunch that included asparagus soup which surprisingly they really enjoyed! We did an Italian meal and also cooked an Asian-influenced dinner for their parents on “Graduation Night.” The kids received certificates and swag bags (supplied by my vendors and co-workers), filled with toques, t-shirts, spices, spatulas and a thermometer so they could check temps while cooking at home. Our little chefs even learned how to handle cutting and chopping with the kitchen knives. Luckily they graduated with all digits in place but it took a few years off my life! Whew!”
Denise attended the Olympic College Culinary Arts program. She’s thankful for the continuing friendships and professional relationships she has maintained with Chef Steve Lammers and his talented crew. “Steve is always encouraging involvement with the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and, of course, the Armed Forces Day Cook Off.”
Denise served as Vice President and then President of the Olympic Peninsula ACF chapter, helping organize fundraisers and educational segments for the chapter. She has also served on the West Sound Arts Council and the Sun Newspaper Community Editorial Board.
Upon returning home from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (GTMO) she operated her own bagel and pizza shop in Bremerton called One World Bagel & Pizza Company. “We did a lot of catering, too, and it was a labor of love for almost 6 years. We were involved in many community projects and started the Peanut Butter & Jam Lunchtime Concerts in the Park.” While working for the Navy, Denise caught the traveling bug and was fortunate to visit many exciting spots in the Caribbean and backpacking in Europe for a month. That sealed the deal and Denise knew working overseas again was going to be in her future! “At my restaurant, I hired college age folks who were traveling for a few months at a time and I was becoming pretty jealous.” She sold her restaurant the day after turning 40 and 3 weeks later was working in the Middle East, operating a dining facility, serving thousands of people a day! This time, it was more like Dorothy and she knew she was not in Kansas anymore and what a long strange trip it’s been. After 2½ years there she went from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 52 all in one year, taking a winfly (Winter Fly-In) contract in Antarctica. And before you ask her, yes it was cold… interesting, beautiful and more shades of white than you can imagine.
Denise spent 3 months in Ecuador soaking up sun, culture and great recipes, then returned to the Middle East where she is still working. She spent another two years working in the dining facilities before taking a fulltime position as a ServSafe Instructor. “This has been the best job I’ve ever had! I am able to teach folks from all over the world food safety and sanitation. We are starting a food safety revolution right here! These chefs, managers and warehousemen are from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines, the Balkans and Jordan. I am hoping they will be able to take this knowledge back home with them and get good jobs in the hospitality industry, become teachers and leaders themselves. In fact, I make it a requirement that they go back to work after our 4 day class and teach the rest of their crew. I also have plenty of Americans and some service members in my classes. I really enjoy what I am doing, I travel and teach classes 3 weeks of every month and I have had a chance to see a lot.
“I have taken some amazing R&Rs and am working on visiting every continent. I have been to many places in Europe and the food is phenomenal. The Germans have the real deal; their bread, pastries (and beer of course) can’t be touched! Maybe the best food ever though, comes out of Morocco. The spices, lamb and local produce are amazing. If I could live in another country permanently it would probably be Morocco… it’s so exotic and the history and culture are so rich. The people are friendly, accepting and seem to have a really wicked sense of humor, they love to laugh. The djemaa el-Fna is like a Terry Gilliam circus come to town with anything and everything you can imagine. If you go to Morocco, try the camel burgers at the Café Clock, well worth getting lost in the maze that is the old Medina in Fez.”
Besides being a Registered Instructor and Proctor with ServSafe, Denise is also a Certified Professional in Food Safety (CP-FS) and HACCP Manager with the National Environmental Health Association as well as being a Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) with the American Society for Quality.
View her favorite recipe below…
MARINATED AND GRILLED SCALLOPS WITH CILANTRO AOILI
Marinade for Scallops Ingredients:
- Soy sauce, low sodium works best here
- Orange juice
- Chopped garlic
- Fresh chopped ginger
- Black pepper
- Crushed red chilies
Cilantro Aioli Ingredients:
- 1 bunch Cilantro, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon roasted and chopped Anahiem peppers
- 4 Garlic cloves crushed
- Pinch of cayenne
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 egg (use pasteurized eggs as aioli is not cooked)
- 2 egg yolks (use pasteurized eggs as aioli is not cooked)
- 1 cup Olive Oil
- 3/4 cup Safflower Oil (vegetable oil or canola oil works too)
- Salt and white pepper
- Pomegranate seeds and additional Cilantro for garnish
- Stir ingredients together and marinate scallops for at least 45 minutes.
- *To make aioli place cilantro, garlic, cayenne, peppers, lime juice and vinegar in Cuisinart or blender and mix together.
- Add egg and yolks and continue blending until mixture lightens in color a little.
- With the machine running slowly drizzle in olive oil and safflower oil in a very slow stream until mixture has emulsified and is the desired consistency.
- Season with a little salt and white pepper.
- Grill scallops on Medium Heat for approximately 4 minutes on each side.
- Arrange scallops on plate and top each one with a little dollop of aioli or put sauce in a small ramekin on the side.
- Garnish with additional cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds.
- Some grilled asparagus or roasted veggies would be nice with this and a side dish using quinoa or couscous would make a good accompaniment.
*Chill Cuisinart bowl and attachments until ready to use.