• Billie DeNunzio

    Billie DeNunzio

    Professional Chef, American Culinary Federation

    Billie DeNunzio is a culinary expert. From starting out as a home economist with Georgia Power to transitioning to a test kitchen chef, DeNunzio is no stranger to change. She has adapted from a chef to a writer, to director of the Institution of Culinary Arts Academy at Gainesville’s Eastside High School, to now being an advisor and consultant for culinary programs with the American Culinary Federation. DeNunzio believes how one reacts to change can hinder or advance his or her success. Her ever-transformative and positive attitude is what allows DeNunzio to continue making new achievements and helping the Gainesville community.

    “Strive as hard as you can. We make own luck, so go get lucky! Don’t think about being a woman. Think about yourself as a person with skills and talents and share them as much as possible. By doing so, you grow and all those around you grow,” said DeNunzio.

    What does it mean to be Fierce?

    Committed to objectives and won’t let anything stand in the way. As an experienced chef who trains chefs for competition, I know what it means to push until you think you have no more and then squeeze that drive out in order to be the best. A woman who is fierce is always looking to better herself and the world around her. Fierce women try their hardest and support others. She inspires people with confidence and is assertive along with the ability to listen, reflect, and, yes, even compromise.

    What does success, achievement and accomplishment mean to you?

    Success and accomplishment comes only when you have given your best and helped others find their best. To see the “aha” moment come in those you work with is the best feeling as you share success with others. Success is making a difference to people while doing what we love. I feel the exhilaration when I know that I made a difference and see the positive impact I have on the lives of others.

    What motivates you in the morning?

    Knowing all the opportunities our community offers for all of us to be involved and to see the difference that can be made. I have been exploring new avenues and have found more than I could possible follow. I have followed several of them, and I look forward to following more.

    What or who is inspiring you right now? Why?

    What inspires me is seeing those I have worked with succeed. Now, I continue to help people and businesses be more successful by traveling to programs. I have traveled and worked with over 25 programs lately consulting on everything from curriculum to kitchen layout and equipment.

    What was the best decision you’ve made? What’s the worst?

    The best decision has been to trust myself and be willing to try new things, but it has also been the worst decision at times when I had to turn around and start over when new things did not always workout. Beginning my career in a test kitchen taught me to start over and over and over again, but the end is normally success. I now have a former student working in test kitchens for Hoffman Media and writing for magazines. Taking on developing the culinary magnet program at Eastside High School was the best decision.

    What has been your biggest obstacle and how have you overcome it?

    In this ever-changing world, the biggest obstacle is keeping up with change in technology, in your field and in the climate of the country. I continue to seek out ways to grow. If you have energy, enthusiasm and are fierce about where you are headed, the opportunities that are now open can be mind boggling. To overcome, you just need to work even harder. I see people come into Catholic Charities and they have had to start all over. However, many have been able to do this and then help others. We can spend each day making a difference. I have had to change course several times in my life from Home Economist with Georgia Power to test kitchen chef, writer for the Epicurean Magazine, then coming to Gainesville and starting over with the Institute of Culinary Arts and now changing and becoming an advisory and consultant. Change can be an obstacle or a catalyst. You have to be willing to sometimes change direction and see things that happen not as obstacles.

    How do you address negativity in your life and in business?

    Same as above. I surround myself with positive people that are making a difference in the community. I am so lucky to be involved in activities that make a difference in so many different ways, which puts me in contact with people that have vision, take risks and are giving service to this community in so many ways. I do not continue contact with people that breed negativity.

    Is there a particular instance or occurrence that you credit for building your confidence and self-esteem?

    Instances that stand out include working in a test kitchen after graduation and presenting recipes on a TV show with Julia Childs in Atlanta. I just thought I could do it and it would be an adventure. I didn’t realize I could fail. In the education field, seeing students achieve for the first time on a national level then going back to volunteer and mentor others in their community made me realize how far what we do can spread. I have seen this over and over again, which gives me the confidence to continue and lets me know each of us are making a difference.

    How do you empower other women?

    By making opportunities for all kinds of people, not just women. By example and leading so others can see. By seeing us, they know they too can be independent, strong and can achieve. I am proactive, so I reach out to others when I think I can help. One of the best things we can do is to mentor and encourage.

    What change do you want to see in your industry?

    I look back at the class picture I have from my culinary class for college, and I see I am the only female in the class. Now, I look in the classes and see half the students are female. I see the impact and a chance to change and improve the opportunities in our communities and education by opening doors. By working with the Alachua County School Board to create one of the first magnet programs, I envisioned an environment that all students could grow and learn while incorporating all the elements needed to succeed. This includes soft and hard skills for future jobs. The changes are here and we all just need to take advantage of them. The culinary industry is healthier, more innovative, transparent and more locally sourced. Changes that have come include women in this formally male environment making themselves heard and lifestyle changes like including meal kits, so individuals can return to cooking at home.

    Do you have any advice for young women as they try to achieve their goals?

    Strive as hard as you can. We make our own luck, so go get lucky! Don’t think about being a woman but think about yourself as a person with skills and talent and share them as much as possible. By doing so, you grow and all those around you grow. Surround yourself with those you see as winners and potential winners. Have patience, discipline, and a willingness to learn. I have seen this in the young women I have worked with that are now culinary writers, business owners, executive chefs and directors of programs. Be both assertive and humble and be willing to change and modify as needed.

    What do you want to be remembered for?

    Creating a positive and nurturing environment for those in need in our community by giving them alternative paths to success. That I have been able to inspire and ignite change not just in the education setting through the culinary program, but in the community as a whole.

    How do you defy the current stereotypes, stigmas and double standards that women have today?

    I think women have come a long way. One of the great things about our community is that women are not forced to deal with lack of opportunity. Women have the ability to make decisions and move forward, and ignore those that carry the idea of stereotypes, stigmas and double standards. I have the time, energy and desire to help others.