Nurse-Turned-Chef Barbara Gabis — With a Recipe for Chicken in Wine

As she approached 50 years old, the longtime neonatal nurse made the decision to attend culinary school and become a professional chef.

Barbara Gabis
Barbara Gabis (photo: Courtesy of Barbara Gabis)

A resident of Wheeling, West Virginia, and a parishioner at St. Michael Catholic Church there, Barbara Adams Gabis has led a busy and colorful life, to say the least. Raised as a Presbyterian, she became a Catholic after attending Mass with her husband.

“He was very Catholic,” she said. “He was in seminary for 12 years but he left the seminary and entered medical school. ... He went into cardiology. ... He was the kindest, the smartest and a great doctor.” 

Because Barbara was a nurse in neonatal care in the same hospital as her future husband. They worked together and eventually married.

“We were married for 39 years, though he died a few years ago,” she said. “I started going to church with him and then I made a decision. I didn’t want to be a family that has a father take the children to church once a week or I will the next. ... I went through RCIA and found that it is important to worship as a family.”

By the time she neared 50 years old, Barbara decided she did not want to go back to nursing.

“All I loved to do is to cook,” she said, “so I went to culinary school in Pennsylvania (Le Cordon Blue Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh). My friends told me I would be 50 when I was done training. The school had a job fair, and I interviewed for a cooking position. Oglebay staff came to the culinary school and that’s where they found me.

“After that I did an intern shift at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling. I worked there for 12 years,” she said. “The restaurant held wedding banquets and the inn is a resort with 500 rooms with cabins and rooms in the lodge.” She recalled that there were days when the resort held five weddings at once. 

Her primary role was as garde manger chef — a specialty chef in charge of preparing and storing cold food items.

“I worked in cold food production from appetizers, salads, sandwiches and lots of crudités on display and it was very creative,” she said. “Like one of the Easter buffets — we had 2,000 reservations, so we came up with our own recipes. The potato salad I used was my husband’s and I started doing it for the restaurant afterwards.” 

She recalled that her most popular dish was her created caprese sandwich, filled with chicken, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil formed into a panini press. Another star dish was her Morning Glory Salad to honor her morning prayer group. The salad was comprised of grilled chicken, mixed greens, mashed ramen noodles, sliced almonds, sesame seeds that were toasted with butter, and dressed with a blend of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar.

“The crunch, the saltiness, and the sweetness — it was very popular then,” she said, adding that she really does not need a recipe; she just creates as she cooks along.

This was probably inspired by watching her mother, a basic home cook who made her own pizza with her dough and three different kinds of cheeses. She also canned all edibles, from jams to spaghetti sauce to fresh vegetables.

“I loved cooking as a young adult, and always loved cooking and did it to impress my soon to-be-husband, and I cooked lots for him,” she said.

“And I was very rigid as a mom. I told my children they had to have vegetables and salads, and no desserts until they eat. “

Now, as a retired chef, Barbara goes to daily Mass and maintains that her Catholic faith strongly influences her life.

“I came to a Rosary group late in life,” she said, “and the leader is very faith-filled. I found great comfort and solace from stress doing the Rosary. And there I was, in an airport and praying the Rosary to stay calm.”


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Recipe: Chicken in Wine

Serves about 4 to 5

As Barbara Gabis noted, “I usually pair this with fettuccine alfredo, candied carrots and steamed broccoli. It makes for a very colorful plate.”


  • 8 to 10 chicken tenders
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 
  • 4 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1 clove garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place chicken in a casserole dish and pour all ingredients in. Cover and bake for 50 minutes.