Interview 4 Inspiration - Chef Dennis of More Than A Mount Full- A Culinary Journeyby Wendy Irene
Interview 4 Inspiration is a series. Here you will find a sequence of questions answered by inspirational people. People who have inspired me in one way or another, either through knowing them personally or through their work. I believe people are the best sources of inspiration; therefore it gives me great pleasure to share a little more about them with you in a series of questions.
Today, I am excited to share with you Chef Dennis, creator and mastermind behind More Than A Mount Full – A Culinary Journey. Chef Dennis shares with the world his mouth-watering recipes, incredible food photography, and a true passion for the culinary world! He is the Executive Chef at Mount Saint Joseph Academy where he not only feeds the students but passes on his joy of cooking, a true gift.
Besides being very talented and good at what he does, he is incredibly giving and interactive with all his readers, making him a genuine superstar in my book. I always look forward to being inspired by Chef Dennis’ work. One look at his site and you’ll leave hungry for more.
With great pleasure I would like you to now...
Please Welcome, Chef Dennis!
More Than A Mount Full – A Culinary Journey
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I began cooking at an early age; my mother was a nurse and worked the night shift so she could be home during the day if we needed her. So while she slept I cooked what I could. My official training didn’t come until later in life, I had a few good people in my life who believed in me and helped me believe in myself. Mama Jeanette told me you couldn’t teach someone to cook, it had to be in them to begin with, you could teach someone to go through the motions, but not to create joyous meals……that was one of Mama Jeanette’s favourite sayings……”create Joyous meals, Sonny boy”
I worked in a few restaurants during my career, then as a quality of life move, and after my first carpal tunnel surgery, I went into management in business dining, feeding executives. I always felt that tug though, and I was good at what I did, but not truly happy. 5 years ago after my second carpal Tunnel surgery, I moved into school dining, and found myself once again behind the stove…..and it felt good. Some day’s my hand is worse than others, but my heart carries me through the bad days.
What are you currently focusing your energy on in your life?
My current project is the start of my second year of culinary training at the school I work at, once again I have 80 girls that have signed up, last year we finished with 13…..I just shake my head and wonder what I got myself into. But the joy I get from watching the wonder in the eyes of my students makes it all worthwhile.
My blog is also a current project, which now seems to be leading me into writing a book. Not just a cookbook, but a tale of my culinary journey, to where I am today.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up at 4 am most weekdays, sometimes earlier if need be. I get to work at 5, and start by unlocking everything and turning on all the equipment, and start my pasta water heating up. By 5:30 I have started cooking our baked goods for breakfast, make the coffees, and then start prepping some of the items for the salad bar, roasted veggies, roasted chicken, tofu, whole grain salads, hummus, salad dressings…whatever needs to be done. I then get my meats in the oven, turkey breasts mostly (my girls favorite), eye rounds for roast beef, and whatever might need to be cooked for the next day.
I cook 10 lbs of pasta pretty much every day, except for Fridays when we have a pasta bar, then I need about 30 lbs on hand. I make 5 gallons of marinara 2x a week, which cooks for about 3 hours, make a homemade soup every day, and of course receive the bulk of my orders and have all the stock put away. By then it’s usually 8am. I retreat to my office, with a cup of coffee and a cookie, and see what paperwork needs to be done.
After finishing some paperwork, making phone calls, answering emails, and setting up the day’s signage, I get up, it’s now around 9am, and start lunch production. While I begin lunch production, I also break down my soup and sauces and set up what I need for the day, cool and store the remainder. With lunch prepped, it’s now around 10:30, I begin the final push to have lunch finished and set by 11:10, we serve the girls at 11:15 for the first lunch. They are done by around 12, and then I fill my vending machines…..sigh…..I start setting the second lunch while filling vending. Second lunch starts at 12:45 and is over at 1:30…..I then pull the registers, count them, do my deposit, and finish my daily cash reports. Now it’s time to place my orders on the internet…thank goodness for that, I do love my sales people, but it takes so much longer that way, I can place my orders in minutes. By now it’s around 2:15 and on a good day I am done, well almost. I go to the bank on the way home, and sometimes a quick trip to Sam’s Club, or Restaurant Depot to pick up something that either didn’t come in or I forgot to order. But on most days I am home by 3:30 A few days a week I have work to do at home, but not always. Now if we have a catered event my day ends around 9pm. On days I teach my girls I am on until 4:30.
That’s my day….about 175 of them a year…so don’t feel too bad, I’m off a lot too!
What are your favorite family or solo activities?
I love to just spend time with my wife, it doesn’t matter what we do, as long as food involved during the day. We use to travel a bit, but we have two Bernese Mt. Dogs, one a rescue that was in really bad shape, so our traveling has been set aside for the time being. I love working on my blog and baking.
When you hear the word happiness what is the first thing that comes to mind?
How lucky I am to be able to know that word first hand.
What makes you beautiful?
I would have to say that if anything makes me beautiful it’s the joy I receive from preparing and serving a good meal, and the joy I get from teaching my girls, and seeing them successful. And my love of animals, and the pain I feel when they suffer.
Eating!! I also loved sports, football and wrestling.
I think I am doing it right now, although there was a time I would have loved to have been a karate instructor, teaching karate gave me great joy and a sense of fulfillment.
What is one area of your life you would like to improve?
My occasional intolerance of others... it is something I struggle with.
What is one responsibility you would love for someone else to take over?
Putting my stock away.
Celebrating in life can bring so much joy! Do you have a favorite holiday you celebrate?
I love Christmas more than any other holiday, it’s such a wonderful time of year, and while I do embrace diversity, and acknowledge how other cultures bring so much to enrich our world, it has been such a nice feeling the last five years, not to have to worry about being politically correct and wishing those around me at school “Merry Christmas” Happy Holidays just never really cut it for me.
What favorite tradition have you passed down to your children?
I try to make them understand that two thing must influence where they work; you have to love what you do, and be able to do it well. Money should never be a consideration in picking a profession. We work to live, not live to work.
What is one life lesson you have learned and would like to share with others?
To embrace life with all the gusto you possibly can, to love fully and unconditionally, and to take chances. Nothing is worse than wondering what if?
How can others best give you support?
LOL….that’s a good question, for those of you that know Disc profiles, I am a High D (although I have come a long way), for high D’s the best support is to just do your job, and stay out of our way…lol….but like I said I have come a long way.
My best support comes from allowing me to be me, to try crazy things and see what works. I am fortunate to have a wonderful staff, who other than occasionally rolling their eyes, do everything I ask of them. That is the best support I could ask for.
Thank you Chef Dennis for sharing and for inspiring us with your wonderful creations and stories!
*On a side note, as all of his readers know, Chef Dennis is a squash blossom addict and I think he is virtually turning the rest of us into addicts too. When I saw some I could barely restrain myself from taking 800 photos. That and the fact that I think I am really going to need to start saving for a Dutch oven. He always makes me smile!
Have a great Friday and weekend friends!
Be sure to visit Chef Dennis at