“I love my job. If you have a job you love, or a career you enjoy, you never work a day in your life. I love food. I like cooking for people.”
If you hunger after culture at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth itself, there’s plenty of creativity and art taking place in Café Modern. That’s thanks to Executive Chef Denise Shavandy. She is responsible for all food inside the museum’s in-house restaurant, Café Modern. The restaurant hosts corporate and social events as well as entertains museumgoers and regular diners. Shavandy’s cooking revolves around the concept of sustainability, which means serving fresh, seasonal and local food. She has worked at Café Modern for almost five years now. Born in New York, Shavandy has lived in and called Texas home since she was 3 years old.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lights, camera, start cooking! Shavandy was recently featured in Food Network’s Chopped series. The show tested her exemplary culinary skills under pressure. And, she came out on top. She dazzled the judges and defeated three fellow chefs to win the competition. “That felt great. Going into it, obviously, you never know if you’re going to win. I was a little nervous. Like, ‘What am I getting myself into?’ Even if I didn’t win, I got a trip to New York and had a great experience. Part of that I think kept me calm.”
“It’s a mix of the ingredients. How fast you’re thinking on your feet. And if you were able to put it on the plate or not. I was up against some good talent and I think any of us could have won. But that day I happened to do the best.”
Shavandy used to tinker around in the kitchen and help out in dinner parties at home since she was little. Although she was always fascinated by cooking, she wasn’t preparing for a career in the food industry. Shavandy graduated with a degree in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin, after switching her major from architectural engineering. She worked part-time at restaurants during her college days. “I was already making enough money cooking. I really liked what I was doing. I’m like, ‘Why am I going to leave this to go have a desk job in advertising?’ No, no. I don’t like it that much. I stuck with what I was doing for a little while.”
And she kept going. She previously worked as an executive chef at eatZi’s Market & Bakery in Dallas. Then she served as the executive chef instructor at the TSTC Culinary Institute in Abilene, followed by a spell at Central Market in Southlake. She currently works for Bon Appétit Management Company, a California-based foodservice provider whose clients include Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth.
Shavandy said salt is an overlooked ingredient that she cannot live without. However, she does not have a favorite dish to make. Rather, she wants challenges and surprises as she is experimenting with different ingredients always. “To me, doing something new or different is more exciting than making the same thing.”
Perhaps that is why she has a large collection of weird and funny novelty socks that she wears to work. For someone who is required to wear uniforms for most of her career, the colorful socks become a form of personal expression.
– Neetish Basnet
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