Chef credits Uncle Sam for her culinary prowess

Dawn Gallia is the head chef at Downtown Produce. <i>  | Photo by SENIOR LIFE Courtesy of Downtown Produce <i/> If you’ve sampled some of the many delights at the deli of Downtown Produce, you know about Dawn Gallia’s culinary handiwork.

Gallia, head chef at the Melbourne gourmet market, thanks Uncle Sam for the valuable experience she received in the food industry. The Jersey girl enlisted in the U.S. Army after a couple of years of community college in part to follow a family tradition.

“Both of my grandfathers had served in WWII,” she said.

“I wanted to serve my country and to prove to myself and family I had the strength and discipline to do so.”

After basic training, Gallia became a food service specialist to a field artillery unit.

“Most of our time was spent in the field, moving and setting up testing for intermediate range nuclear missiles,” explained Gallia.

The job took her to White Sands, N.M., Fort Chaffe, Ark. and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“After my discharge, I spent a few years in Austin, Texas, before returning home to work in my family’s flower and gift basket shop,’’ Gallia said. “But, after six years, my love of cooking hit me and I started a long, hot career in the restaurant business.’’

The many get-togethers of her large, extended family often revolved around eating.

“Our Polish background usually involved food,” she said.

“This included the family gathering around to make homemade pierogis weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. We would gather around the family table, break into the oplatek (Christmas wafers), then feast on the pierogis, fish, mushrooms, gravy and celebrate. This is where my love for cooking truly began.”

In order to garner experience, she worked her way up from prep/line cook, working long hours nights and weekends without much monetary compensation. After moving to Brevard in 2002 to be with her partner, Gallia began a stint at the Melbourne International Airport cafeteria before moving on to the Rialto Hilton and later to the Pineda Crossing kitchen.

To better follow her dream, Gallia decided to enroll in culinary school, becoming part of the initial classes of Keiser University’s culinary program in Melbourne.

“Working full time and attending school was a tough job for this old gal, but with the help of my family, friends and partner, I graduated in 2006,”
she said.

It was at Keiser that Gallia was asked to join the Downtown Produce team.

“I was intrigued,” she said.

“To start a new adventure with an already established business excited me.”

A dozen years later, Gallia is still part of the adventure. The Melbourne resident and her life partner share life with three dogs and, as she puts it, “too many cats.” Her spare time is spent fishing or spending time with her family, friends and pets, but Downtown Produce remains a huge part of her life.

“I thank owners Jill, Gaylord, Ian and Russell Aker for giving me the creative latitude to serve our customers,” Gallia said.

“My greatest joy is seeing repeat customers coming into the store every day, and providing them with fresh, homemade cooking that would make my Grandma proud.”