The Compassionate Cook
It all started the first day of school. Denise was beginning first grade and her father, at age 36, was starting his first day of college. "My mom would type his papers and they would be busy with his school work and then would realize they forgot to make dinner." As an only child and eager to participate in the busyness of the family, at the age of six, Denise would make little relish trays and take them out to her parents with a white towel draped over her arm just like the butlers on TV. "I would make sure Mom and Dad would have stuff to eat." She held her first dinner party when she was a senior in high school and planned her parents' 25th wedding anniversary. Thus began her journey into the world of cooking, entertaining and providing service to others.
Denise Ogden, an elementary teacher by profession, taught in multiple states before leaving the field. She and her husband, Doug, a retired FBI agent, moved to Dataw Island in 1998. "We drove out to Dataw, crossed the causeway, rolled the windows down, smelled the pluff mud and said 'We're home.'" Though she grew up in Southern California, the Lowcountry spoke to her.
Her culinary expertise has really been honed since they moved to the island where they joined two gourmet clubs. "A friend of mine was putting together a sit-down birthday dinner for 24 and all of the caterers in the area were booked. I told her I would help. This was my first 'event' and I planned and cooked everything with the help of the hostess. Everyone said, 'So you do this?' And I said, 'Yah, okay. I do this.'" As a result she began her life as a personal chef. She has prepared the food for many private dinner parties, an art gallery opening, family reunions (other peoples'), and many a cocktail party. She has also married her love of teaching with her passion for cooking by doing food demonstrations for friends gathered around her kitchen bar. Her husband jokes that they should put the mirrors above like a TV show.
This self-made chef, who prefers to be called a cook, has cooking knowledge oozing from her pores: always use olive oil, unsalted butter, sea salt, and fresh is best for everything. She also reminds, "You eat visually with your senses before putting anything in your mouth, so cook with lots of colorful foods." And summer rule: The host makes the first drink and then guests are on their own.
This talented cook's friends say she looks like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, i.e. the hair, round face and perpetual friendly smile. Denise's husband refers to another famous chef, saying, "Why would I want to go out? I'm married to Julia Child." "Being Julia" includes being a consultant to friends and acquaintances for any and all culinary challenges. Generous and helpful are words that Denise epitomizes so it follows that she believes that helping others can change your attitude and your life.
Living that belief, Denise volunteers her time, energy, and her skills and deems that it is extremely important to give back. She is the volunteer coordinator at St. Helena Elementary School where she runs the kindergarten intervention program called Alphabet Junction.
Denise's other passions include teaching people to read, therefore she is a volunteer for the Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry. She is also a member of P.O.E. International (a philanthropic women's organization) whose mission is to promote educational opportunities for women. "You have to give people a chance and you have to help them enable themselves to move ahead." She adds rungs to the ladder to help people climb up and achieve.
So much to admire about this talented and generous woman. And I'm salivating for her prime rib, Yorkshire pudding, and apple cheesecake with caramel sauce!
Hidden Talents: She is a poet, potter, and calligrapher.
Essentials for Cooking: "Paper towels, eggs, lemon, and cheese must be on hand or I can't cook."
Favorite Cookbooks: New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and The Joy of Cooking, by Erma Rombauer.
Favorite Chef and Cooking Show: "Tyler's Ultimate" and "Food 911". She had her picture taken with Tyler Florence in the same location we met, the new funky restaurant, The Tooting Egret, in downtown Beaufort.