A California girl at heart. The land of dairies and strawberry fields--or what is known to the rest of the world as Garden Grove, California--is where it all began for Deb Wise. Located 34 miles south of Los Angeles, Wise remembers her roots as a sea of produce stands with the best food imaginable. One particular favorite were the strawberry stands on every corner.
“Coming from California,” Wise said, “you get spoiled by your access to the most delicious and yummy produce.”
She grew up on home-cooked meals and family dinners. Growing up, Wise was heavily influenced by her grandmother’s presence in the kitchen. Her grandmother, Laura Belle Heard, was originally from the Ozarks and cooked seasonally. Many nights, fruit was the dessert of choice, and cornbread dinners were a particular staple. The night before Thanksgiving was always a cornbread and bean dinner where the remaining cornbread would be used for stuffing.
These homemade dinners gave way to Wise’s belief in keeping food simple, fresh, and as true to its original form as possible.
While Wise has adapted to the new traditions of her husband’s and daughter’s families, she uses every opportunity to incorporate her own family traditions when she can. Some holidays have essential dishes, such as Wise’s Christmas morning classic, Ortega Chili Casserole.
She throws a mean dinner party. “I’m a friend collector,” Wise said. “I love having people come over.”
While living in Visalia, California, Wise and her husband, Barry, would often throw parties at their home. The most important element of those parties? Making sure that there was food in every room. Guests would grab cocktails as they entered and would find hor d'oeuvres and a dinner buffet as they made their way throughout the house. Often, friends would gather in the kitchen where Wise would set up cutting boards, so people could help out if they wanted. However, the ultimate destination was the screened-in dessert porch with brandy-laced hot chocolate and yule logs.
Destined for Cooking Light After a successful career in banking and the non-profit world, Deb Wise returned to school. A couple of false-positive mammograms pushed Wise to finally pursue her dreams of going to culinary school and working in a test kitchen. So, Wise and her husband set out cross-country for the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York to study baking and pastry arts.
It was there that Wise became fascinated with the science and artistry of baking. Wise learned that many skills, such as good knife skills and being able to identify and blend ingredients, that are required for baking and pastry making were transferable into other culinary disciplines.
In between her first and second year of culinary school, Wise needed an internship. So, she applied to Cooking Light and hit it off immediately with former Test Kitchen Director Vanessa Taylor Pruett. Even though the length of the internship was longer than Wise would be able to commit to, Pruett told Wise to give her a call when she graduated from CIA.
Wise spent her five-month internship working in the pastry kitchen at the gated community Sailfish Point on Hutchinson Island, Florida.. The experience only solidified for Wise that she wanted to work in a test kitchen rather than a working pastry kitchen.
After graduation and short stint working in the pastry kitchen at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, Wise finally found her way back to Cooking Light as a test kitchen intern and quickly moved up the ranks to Recipe Tester and Developer.
Music that Gets Her Grooving Anytime that you step into Wise’s kitchen, you will certainly hear music floating throughout her workspace. Her go-to girls are Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Merchant, and Ani DiFranco.
“There’s nothing like some angry Ani DiFranco for when you’re feeling feisty,” Wise said.