Dena Marino on Home Economics, MC Kitchen, and Her Advice For Aspiring Chefs
For Dena Marino, everything changed after her first home economics class. It was in that unlikely place -- in a football-crazed high school in a middling city near the Jersey shore -- that the petite blonde had an epiphany. She wanted to become a chef.
Courtesy Dena Marino Cooking from scratch since she was a kid.
It didn't come as a total surprise. Growing up in an Italian family, she had always placed importance on food. From an early age, Marino -- the chef of MC Kitchen and Mercato in the Design District -- pickled vegetables, kneaded pastas, and made cheeses entirely from scratch. Her mother and grandparents taught her about seasonality and how to build meals around fresh produce.
Until that moment in home ec, though, cooking had just been a part of her upbringing.
"Food was always the basis of my family's communication -- it brought us together for special occasions and regular, everyday meals," Marino says. "But it was in my home economics class that I learned that being a chef could be a career."
There were other clues about Marino's future in the kitchen. When she was 13, she landed her first food-related job at an ice-cream shop. The store made everything from scratch -- ice creams and toppings such as cookies, brownies, cakes, and toffees. A year later, she was promoted to shift manager. "It was a big deal!" she says.
The experience ignited a relentless passion in her. So after high school, she enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. In 1993, she graduated and scored a job with celebrity chef Michael Chiarello in California's Napa Valley. About six years later, she accepted an executive chef position at Ajax Tavern, a restaurant owned by Chiarello in Aspen, Colorado. At the ski vacationland, Marino developed a favorable reputation. Eventually, she launched her own kitchens -- D19 and Ellina.
In 2010, she sought change. After accepting a position at Danny DeVito's eponymous South Beach restaurant, Marino moved to Miami. That year, the chef also challenged Masaharu Morimoto on Food Network's Iron Chef America. Although she lost to the Iron Chef, the exposure entrenched Marino in the food industry's big leagues.