Monday, February 18, 2013

Chef Denisse Ollier tells her story and shows off her latest recipe

Interview with Denisse Ollier
Skills, Ability and Knowledge
Chef, Entrepreneur, TV Personality and Latin Community Leader

By Jessie Riley

(Note: Read through to the bottom for a special recipe from Chef Ollier)

Jessie:  Hi Denisse, I know I’ve known you a very long time from fundraiser events, and then we reconnected at ICE a few years ago.  How did you wind up at ICE, for the culinary and management programs?  

Denisse:  I always loved good food.  As a child, I would spend hours watching and helping Grandma Juana as she created magic in her small, but wondrous kitchen in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  My mother, however, pushed me away from the kitchen. She wanted me to be a career woman, which I became.

As luck would have it, I chose to be an international correspondent, traveling and tasting foods from all over, which, once I got home, I had the urge to recreate.  One cookbook after another led to a pile of recipes, and how to and a need to know more.  In 2005, I enrolled in the Professional Culinary Arts program at ICE…   Life would never be the same. I became hooked, obsessed with learning more.  And I wanted to explore the possibility of having my own restaurant---thus, I also took the Management course.

 Jessie:  Was settling into kitchen life a difficult transition for a TV anchor?

Denisse:  I did both courses at ICE while still a senior female anchor at Univision NY and while doing an externship at Le Bernardin,  and having a weekly morning segment called Riquisimo con Denisse.  It was brutal. Really crazy!!!!

Leaving my TV job was liberating, but at the same time I lost the routine, the stability, the rhythm of a 9-5, well, in this case 2:30-11:30 pm job. I lost the daily feedback of our audience and the working routine with my colleagues.  Most of all, I missed covering breaking news.

In turn, I gained my freedom…  My creative freedom, my freedom from living by a set of rules that tied me down with a lists of do’s and mostly don’ts that extended to my off time.  After more than 20 years of being in a business that rewarded loyalty and discouraged self-expression and creativity, I was ready to see what else was out there.

It was not an easy transition---there were lots of adjustments to be made- but, for the first time, I was able to run my life—to experiment- to see what works and doesn’t work and where I can go with my skills, abilities and knowledge.

Jessie:  I know you issue periodic online newsletters, with beautiful food photography.  How long have you had your marketing newsletter?  How do you find it helpful?  Do you also do Facebook, Twitter, etc.  How do you think most of your fans keep up with you? And do you have a publicist -- or are you your own?

Denisse:  I have had the monthly letter on and off since 2008. I stopped writing for a while because of  health issues.  Now I send my monthly newsletter regularly, plus I am very active on Facebook and Twitter.  I do not have a publicist.

Jessie:  I saw online that you are also selling a line of cook wear.   How did you develop your line of pans -- was it your idea or Fagor's?  How long did it take to develop and what was the process?  Are you planning to sell more kitchen ware type products?  Do you have to travel around and/or do promotions for them? Provide recipes that people can use?  

Denisse:  Fagor is a worldwide leader in cookware. They approached me almost two years ago to develop a line of cookware that was both affordable and of excellent quality.  We even checked the Pantone color wheel to match the exact color that I wanted.  It was a very creative process, stressful at times, but ultimately satisfying. Yes, I do travel to promote my line and my e-store is part of my official website so people have access to my recipes.

Jessie:  A while back we were talking about you developing on a line of cookies, and looking for a producer, what happened to that project?  

Denisse:  I started Boca Dulce, my line of delicious cookies with Latin flavors, on September 2008, a week before the financial collapse. It only goes to show that timing is everything. I was able to hang in there and actually, sell my cookies for the next six months. Thanks in part to promotional efforts of my own and to my good chef friends. In the end, I didn’t have the infrastructure to fully establish myself. I had to fold the business. I learned a lot, especially the importance of planning every step. 

Jessie:   When you do your TV demos, like your weekly Hispanic cooking and nutrition segment for the AARP, who decides what you will cover?  You and producers?  Any words of advice to another entrepreneur who might have a TV gig that would be helpful to share, since this is your field???

Denisse:  The producer and I consult to see what would be a good fit. Sometimes it depends on the air time available and others, on the time of the year (Christmas, spring and Mother’s Day). It is a collaborative effort. My best advice to anyone who wants to be on TV is to be yourself and to communicate in a friendly fashion. 

Jessie:  And recently, you’ve taken on a position at Seton Hall University.  
How is the transition to an academic environment?  

Denisse:  When I’m not cooking, I am the Executive Director of the Unanue Latino Institute at Seton Hall University.  In its essence, this job is also about communicating, which is my calling in life.  I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of this position, from event planning to fundraisers to being in touch with our students on a daily basis.  As a matter of fact, they enrich my life.

Jessie:  What's next for Denisse?  What else would you like to be doing?   

Denisse:  I have a great food business at, I am a top collaborator for AARP, and I work as executive director of the Latino Institute at Seton Hall University, plus I am a spokesperson for several entities whose message of health and fitness and empowerment I embrace. I make a great living and I decide when to go on vacations and for how long!! What more can I ask for? 


Sautéed Spicy Chicken Breasts with Fresh Mango Salsa

Yields 4 servings

4 boneless chicken breasts, lightly pounded
4 ounces smoked bacon
1 garlic clove, minced
8 ounces baby spinach, washed and rinsed
4 ounces soft goat cheese 
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons canola oil

Mango Salsa 
2 fresh mangoes, finely chopped
1 red pepper, small dice
½ medium red onion, small dice
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, leaves only, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375ºF

1.      Mix all ingredients for the mango salsa in a bowl, cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

2.      Place bacon in skillet and fry at medium heat until crisp. Place on paper towels and proceed to chop in small bits. Set aside.

3.      Remove all but one tablespoon of fat from the skillet and sauté the garlic and spinach. Set aside to cool.

4.      In a bowl, combine the spinach mix with the goat cheese and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add bacon.

5.      Into the thickest part of each chicken breast cut a 3-inch pocket. Stuff with the spinach-cheese mixture. Close with a toothpick.

6.      Mix the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Season each breast with the mixture. You may cover and refrigerate for one hour or up to a day ahead.

7.      Heat a large oven proof skillet at medium high, add canola oil and once it is hot, place the chicken breasts and sauté 4-5 minutes until golden brown. Turnover and cook 3-4 minutes.

8.      Transfer to oven and roast for 10-12 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 165ºF. Remove from oven and keep warm until ready to serve. 

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