Dennis Narlock has cooked for Hollywood stars and built a well-known local catering business throughout the past three decades.
But Narlock plans to walk away from his business and his cooking career at the end of the year. He says he will also give up his personal wealth and all his worldly possessions after joining a recently-established Catholic religious order in the Diocese of Fargo.
“We all have a calling in life to do something,” he said. “Sometimes, the call changes. You may be called to this at this point in your life, then things change in your life where you’re called to do something else.”
Narlock, who has also gone by the moniker Chef NarDane, will close his business, A Touch of Magic, once his lease in the Boardwalk building in downtown East Grand Forks expires at the end of the year.
A Touch of Magic will stay open for the rest of the year honoring all its booked events, but will not book any new events for next year.
Dan Stauss, who co-owns the building, said the space will continue to be used for banquets. Stauss said he has a new tenant lined up and improvements planned for the space. The downstairs Boardwalk Bar & Grill has opened a bar on the patio that it is operating Sundays through Thursdays and other times the catering business is not using the space.
Narlock, 46, is known in the community for his colorful personality and his expensive tastes in addition to his cooking prowess and successful catering business. He says members of the local business community and even some members of his own family have been surprised by his choice to give up everything he owns and the business he built in favor of a more simple life filled with prayer and religious service.
Narlock has moved into the former rectory at the St. Stanislaus Church near Warsaw, N.D., with two other candidates of the Third Order Franciscans of Mary Immaculate religious community and Father Joseph Christensen, who will lead the new order.
It is a bit more cramped than his former residence — a posh 2,432-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bathroom townhome in south Grand Forks complete with an outdoor spa, waterfall and an outdoor kitchen that he has put on the market for $499,900, including expensive furnishings.
“I used to just love (my home and personal possessions),” he said as he stood in his gourmet kitchen overlooking a sunken living room featuring an ornate fireplace and dueling 300-gallon aquariums. “I still like nice things, but it’s different. This is all I used to think about, but when I experienced the joy of Christ and a deepening of my faith into religious life, everything else just falls aside and I don’t think of it in the same way. I’ve done the money and the fame and it doesn’t make me any happier.”
A year ago Narlock sold his boat and burgundy Hummer. He is beginning the process of giving up all his assets and possessions. Narlock will eventually take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
He said he doesn’t expect to have second thoughts about his drastic lifestyle change.
“When you become a friar, these are things you don’t get back,” Narlock said. “You go on faith. You don’t get a business back. You don’t wake up two years from now and decide, ‘Maybe this isn’t my calling.’”
Father Christensen, who has known Narlock for years, says he doesn’t doubt Narlock’s sincerity and believes he has the right attributes to help him get through the approximately five-year process to be fully accepted into the order and take his perpetual vows.
“Dennis is very spiritual, prayerful and talented,” Father Christensen said. “He is energetic, cooperative and has been very helpful in setting up the friary. I’m glad he’s with us. He is not a brother yet, but he has a fraternal spirit. He is very giving and I believe he will touch many hearts through his prayer and apostolic works.”
Narlock has moved into the new friary in the former rectory at St. Stanislaus, the church he attended while growing up on a farm near Oslo, Minn. He attends daily mass and prays together with the other members of the order. Until the end of the year he will continue working when necessary during the day, stopping a number of times throughout the day to pray before returning to the friary later in the day.
He says he is looking forward to next year when he will be able to be part of the order full time. The candidates and eventual brothers will spend four or more hours a day together praying and will become more familiar with the Catholic faith. While they will live together in the friary, they will also be active in the community, hosting a summer camp and teaching religious education at the parish.
Narlock, who started Denny’s Catering when he was 17, grew up helping his mother decorate and deliver cakes. He built a successful local catering business before branching out and cooking for Hollywood celebrities while running his local business.
Narlock’s office at A Touch of Magic and his home office are covered with framed photos featuring autographed messages to him from Hollywood stars he has cooked for like Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Winkler and Debbie Reynolds.
He says he wasn’t prepared for how to handle all the attention and notoriety he was receiving back home.
“I got a big head and became probably very arrogant at the time, not being used to the success,” Narlock said. “Being in the public eye it kind of got the best of me and I developed this attitude or arrogance.”
Narlock says he changed his professional name to Chef NarDane —a combination of the first three letters of his last name and his middle name Duane — to help shield himself from his public persona.
“I never got the sense that I was liked for me or my talents, I was liked for who I was cooking for,” he said. “That never sat well with me because that’s not the way I am.”
Although Narlock was living a glamorous life, rubbing elbows with famous people and accumulating personal wealth, he says something was missing.
A 2000 trip to Rome to present a designer cheesecake to Pope John Paul II caused Narlock to reflect more deeply upon his own faith. He says his mother’s death in 2006 also had a profound impact on his life.
“Him and mom were very close,” said Narlock’s sister, Janine Trowbridge. “They were like best friends. We all wanted to continue that connection. We all spent more time on our faith. We do believe that we will meet her again.”
Narlock began traveling internationally, visiting Catholic shrines and witnessing missionary work. He stopped working in Los Angeles and began teaching Sunday school.
Narlock says he also sought out Father Christensen and Father Gerard Braun of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, where he has been a parishioner, for advice.
He said he has been thinking of joining a religious order for some time. Narlock said the timing is right now with his lease expiring at the end of the year and hip problems that have played a smaller role in his decision to leave the rigors of his daily life.
By returning to St. Stanislaus, his childhood church, Narlock will also be surrounded with reminders of his mother, who developed a religious education program and restored statues and nativity scenes at the church.
After making the decision, Narlock says he has experienced “a deep inner peace.”
“I’ve noticed a change in Dennis,” Trowbridge said of her brother. “He doesn’t need the things he needed before. He doesn’t need the approval of others. He is confident in himself and he is happy.”