ABOUT chef denise
my secrets revealed
food + family + fun
I’m Denise Macuk, and I’m all about culinary adventures, whether they are at home or around the world. This is the story of how I got here. . .
A chef’s life is naturally filled with secrets. Secret recipes, ingredients, places, and, like everyone, personal stories so dear and cherished—or sometimes so painful—that they are never told. The reason I kept my sister Christine’s death a secret was because of the latter. I wasn’t consciously keeping it a secret. I just couldn’t tell anyone without an abundance of tears and pain, so I didn’t. It usually takes a couple years of friendship for me to tell someone that I once had a sister. In fact, some friends are probably finding out right now (sorry).
The thing is, this loss changed me to my core, and greatly influenced the rest of my entire life. It is such a big part of who I am, yet it’s the part I always left out. So, in the interest of full disclosure, this is where I am starting my story.
My sister Christine died unexpectedly in an apartment fire when she rented a room as a San Diego State student. Telling my parents over the phone about our loss was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do, and still haunts me. My husband Mike was my boyfriend then, and the first thing I said to him upon learning of Christine’s death was “Don’t leave me,” and he didn’t.
Shortly after Christine’s death, I left my corporate job, and Mike and I took off on a sabbatical to Europe to heal. I loved exploring new places and hoped that doing something I loved would help keep me interested in life. Traveling to different countries also opened up a whole new world of food. We were on a budget, so we cooked most of our own meals. I found that I could recreate many of my favorite newly discovered dishes myself, without recipes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this creative cooking outlet was very therapeutic and good for my soul. So, after six months, when we ran out of money, we returned to the states, engaged (I asked him), and I went back to my corporate job.
After pouring myself into my work, I became the Vice President of Sales & Marketing—and an insomniac. Cooking became my therapy. I would wake up in the middle of the night and start cooking until it was time to go to work. Then, I’d have a 4-course lunch ready to bring to the employees at work. The employees loved it! Since I wasn’t sleeping much anyway, I decided to go to culinary school at night—just for fun. Shortly after graduation, I quit my high-paying corporate job to start California Chef and do something I loved.
California Chef quickly grew into a leading healthy meal prep service in Los Angeles. I developed thousands of recipes (I’ve kept them secret, of course) that have helped thousands of people lose weight and improve their health. I’ve had the pleasure of cooking for top-name celebrities such as Sean Astin, Billy Crystal, and Cher, and I was a chef for Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson for over 10 years.
Shortly after returning from an East Coast trip in 2018, another life-altering event occurred: The Woolsey Fire. Mike and I were evacuated for a month, lived out of paper bags, and stayed with a very generous friend. Before we learned that our house had miraculously survived, we spent days trying to figure out what we would do if it turned out that it was gone. In examining my life, I realized how much I’ve kept secret, how much I had to share, how sharing could actually help others, and how much I wanted to do it. So, here it goes!