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Personalities: Better Batter 

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Dena Fultz has become somewhat of a star for her red velvet cake, found at Table 9, the homey restaurant at Park and Meadow in the Fan. Her newfound celebrity amuses Fultz, who never imagined her passion for cooking and baking could put her in the spotlight.

Fultz began baking the cake when her husband, Chris, was in graduate school at the University of Virginia and she, with a degree in recreational therapy, was working as activities director at a nursing home in Staunton.

Red velvet cake, a chocolate cake with red coloring and cream cheese icing, was Chris's favorite, so as his birthday approached, Fultz asked around the nursing home hoping to find a recipe. One resident offered her a family recipe, and Fultz has been making the cake ever since (and keeping the recipe under wraps).

Last year at a Valentine's Day party, upon hearing of Fultz's chocolate ravioli, the owners of Table 9 asked if she'd be willing to make desserts for the restaurant they were about to open. She agreed, which led to Table 9's tall, triple-layered slice of delectable red cake with a sprig of mint.

Fultz acquired her love of cooking from her grandmother -- "the hero of my life," she says. "Her way of giving love to her family was by cooking."

Keeping with tradition, cooking has become an artistic joy for Fultz, and one of the ways she expresses love for her own family. Ask Fultz about her son and her face lights up, an expression of the vibrancy that she bakes into delicacies found all over town (she also makes scones and muffins for Blanchard's Coffee on Forest Hill Avenue).

Fultz's advice for the rest of us: "Use your recipe only as a guide in the right direction, but follow your heart and intuition, and make it your own."
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