Frito-Lay Chef Jody Denton on Brainstorming Sessions for New Flavors and When A Big Idea Hits
Chef Jody Denton had a 35-year restaurant career that spanned the globe and included work with some of the best chefs in the country, among them names like master chef Ernst Gruch, Dean Fearing and Wolfgang Puck. Then about a year ago, he left all that for an office job. But he still gets to wear a chef's coat. We recently sat down with chef Denton as he explained, among other things, how to put an entire meal on a chip and how the Doritos Locos taco shell for Taco Bell all went down.
When did you first get into cooking?
As a kid I always cooked breakfast, I learned how to make omelets, pancakes and stuff like that. Then, in high school I got my first job flipping steaks at a steakhouse.
My dad loved food, wine and culture. He also noticed I liked cooking. Well, he had a friend at a culinary school and called him up and got a lot of information from him. Then, one day called me up into his room and had it all laid out like a presentation for a board of directors. And it was the only time in my life that anyone had a suggestion on what I should do with my life that I actually got excited about.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Austin, lived in Dallas until I was 7, then we moved Napa, California, which is where my dad really got that appreciation for food and wine. Napa culture really sucked him in. Then, he passed that on to me. We moved back to Dallas when I was 12.
Did you go to a culinary school?
No, I did a formal apprenticeship under the first master chef in Texas. He was the chef at the Dallas Country Club, Ernst Gruch.
Then, I went to Switzerland for a few years. I just really wanted to go there; Europe really resonated with me. Then, came back and worked at some hotels in Dallas.
Then, in the mid-'80s a friend told me that Dean Fearing was looking for a sous chef at the Mansion on Turtle Creek. That really changed the path of my career.
How long did you work with chef Fearing?
Five years, from 1985 to '89.
How was it working with him?
He was really great to work with. He's extremely creative; he encouraged us to be creative and to collaborate. He wasn't a pan thrower. He didn't get all fired up like some other chefs have. That's how it used to be -- everybody use to throw knives and pans in the kitchen.
Have you ever tossed anything across the kitchen?
I have never tossed anything across the kitchen in my life. I'm an even-keeled guy.
I just go into the walk-in and scream. No one hears it.
Then you went out to California to work for Wolfgang Puck, correct?
Yes, one day I was working at the Mansion and Dean told me "I want you to go into my office. You're going to get a phone call from Wolfgang Puck."
I asked, "What's he going to call me about?"
And Dean said, "About his new restaurant in Los Angeles."
And he called, and it was the funniest interview I've ever had in my life. He said, "Do you want to be the chef of my new restaurant?"
I said, "Sure."
He said, "OK, I'll fly you in next week."
Why did he want someone from Fearing's crew?
He really wanted to do something different for his new place, and he knew if he pulled from his Spago, it would be that style.