What’s Cooking with Debbie Hill, certified executive chef at Debbie’s Kitchen inside Montrose Orchards

By Flint Journal staff
May 13, 2011

Joseph Tobianski | The Flint Journal

Joseph Tobianski | The Flint Journal

How did you get into cooking?

Kind of survival, I guess. It always fascinated me how you could see the raw product on the counter — potatoes or carrots from the grocery store — and see the same items two hours later in a completely different form. I wanted to know, “How do you get this from this?” I’ve always had a knack for putting things together that will taste good.

I had been a secretary for years. It was just a job. It was not something I enjoyed doing. I catered on the side and I realized that’s what I really loved. Nothing makes me more content than to serve a dish I made and have people enjoy it. At the age of 33, I decided if I was going to work the rest of my life, I might as well do something I enjoy.

Where did you study?

I enrolled in Western Culinary Institute in Portland. I really wanted to learn the science of cooking. I booked my spot a year ahead and froze my tuition.

I helped my sister and her husband open a restaurant and worked there before I went to school. That was a school of hard knocks. Everybody learned everything the hard way. I felt by the time I went to school, I knew everything.

The restaurant was right on the beach in New Jersey. That was a real hardship to swallow that summer.

The school was a very intense class atmosphere. It was a two-year associates degree done in one year. You get a lot of information and are always having exams. There’s no down time. It was the quickest year I’ve ever had.

What was your plan after school?

I wanted to intern on a cruise ship. At that time, it was considered bad luck for a woman to be in (charge of) a kitchen on a cruise ship. You can work in the kitchen, doing prep work and serving, but from years gone by, they’ve followed it as a superstition. I’ve never heard of a woman chef on a cruise ship.

When I kept getting turned down, I finally asked my adviser what was wrong. They told me, but it was obviously off the record.

Why did you return to Michigan?

I was raised here. My folks live in Clio. I graduated from Clio. Right after graduation, I left. I lived all over the country. I wanted to see what made things different.

I came back because I missed my brother and my folks are getting up there.

I bought the old bakery in Montrose. My intent was to be open until 2 and do my catering while I was up there. I knew everyone came in for breakfast, but I didn’t know it was where they camped. The longer I was up there, the more I knew I had to come up with a different idea.

One day Dan (Hill) shows up at my door. He offered to have me come out to the orchard and do ribs and things there.

How have the two businesses meshed?

I always knew they were here. I started buying produce from them; making jams and jellies. I put on the label they were made from Montrose Orchard fruit.

Dan asked me to work in the fruit cellar telling customers how to utilize the different kinds of apples. That was fun.

We got married in April 2005 and I decided to sell the building uptown. Since I’ve been here, every year we’ve come up with something different. Last year, we were really into pickling. We do familiar things with a twist. That’s how I do my catering.

People are putting us together now. There’s still a bakery, still a farm market. Now there’s a little twist out there. Every year, we’re a little busier than the last.

What would you do if you weren’t a chef?

This is going to sound really weird, but my second choice was medical examiner. I like to find out why. They have to find out why someone died. I don’t know that I would have made it through the whole class, but I’d have given it a shot. It’s better than singing opera.

Original Article from MLive: http://www.mlive.com/dining/flint/index.ssf/2011/05/what.html