Some might consider Chef Darren Denny to be the typical OC surfer dude he has a laid back attitude, a go-with-the-flow personality and a love for long boarding but when it comes to working in the kitchen he’s all business. He’s tenacious, a little wild and knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to tell it how it is.
Here’s what he told Great Taste!
As a young boy, Chef Darren traveled from his home in Lynwood to spend his summers in Pennsylvania, working with his grandmother and aunt at their family owned restaurant in the small town of Altoona. He remembers poking around the kitchen and being shooed away by his family who didn’t want the little one getting hurt. “Once they realized they weren’t going to get rid of me, they starting giving me jobs to do,”he says. “I always knew I was going to be a chef and people would just laugh in my face and say, Oh yea,” Darren says in a sarcastic tone. By the age of 19, after working as a dishwasher and cook’s helper,Chef Darren had already proved his skeptics wrong. He landed a job as Executive Chef at the Indian Palms Country Club in Indio where he ran all the kitchen operations with a staff of 24. After that eye-opening experience, he worked in a number of kitchens including a Sous Chef position with Cedar Creek Inn in 1984.More than 20 years later, after spending 13 years with El Niguel Country Club in Laguna Niguel, he found himself back at Cedar Creek in 2005.Now, he serves as Corporate Chef and oversees all four Cedar Creek locations, leading a combined kitchen staff of 140 at locations in Brea, Laguna Niguel, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Beach. How does he manage all this? His overwhelming drive to cook and surf, passionate philosophies and love for his family all play a part. “I try to manage with care, love and compassion. I love what I do and I figure people have enough stuff going on in their everyday lives that they don’t need negativity or a stressful environment…you have all these different personalities that mesh and have to come together but like I tell my staff,we are all here for the same purpose, to please the customer and make sure they’re happy when they walk out the door…if customers are happy and tell their friends and family members about us, everything’s bitchin’.”As a Corporate Chef, Darren feels it’s important to lead in a consistent manner, setting examples of how other staff and customers should be treated. To keep the kitchen running smoothly and ensure equality and consistent work, he balances his time between the four locations and rotates regularly. When the cats away, the mouse will play right? “It’s just human nature,” says Chef”but no steps in the kitchen can be overlooked.” Besides managing the large Cedar Creek staff, Darren works closely with each restaurant’s Executive Chef to provide support and assistance with whatever they may need and to create new menu items and specials. As someone who’s been in the restaurant industry for 30 years and recognizes the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed, Chef Darren feels it’s his duty to help others along the way. “When you see someone who’s talented, you should nurture them and bring people along” so they have the opportunity to learn, acquire knowledge and to grow. Believe it or not, even with a houseful of girls (wife and daughters), cooking and surfing,Chef Darren still manages to find time for himself. He joined a church, The Hot Rod Church for Sinners, a year ago and has been attending regularly. “It’s in a pizza place. The pastor has a classic, 50s style rockabilly group with a standing base and all.” In and out of the kitchen, Chef Darren Denny is passionate and a real go getter. His unique personality and genuine approach have earned him the respect of his colleagues and surfing buddies alike (on the beach, Darren’s nickname is Dags or Dagwood). In a way, becoming a chef is like surfing it takes hard work, practice and patience. You take challenges as they come and ease into catching that sweet wave. Most likely, you’ll fall down or get swept under but soon enough, you’ll plant your feet, stand up and ride it out. As Chef Darren Denny knows, it’s not how many times you wipe out, it’s how many times you get back up and try again. Surf, Cook and Rock on Darren!
Chef Darren Trivia
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST HOSPITALITY JOB: I was a dishwasher at a truck stop.
FAVORITE KITCHEN GADGET OR TOOL: Micro plane & standard French knife
FAVORITE DISH TO MAKE: Fresh salsas
FAVORITE JUNK FOOD: Chocolate cake
FAVORITE FOOD TV SHOW: Kitchen Nightmares
CULINARY HERO: Graham Kerr
SCHOOL: Chef Jerry’s school of you’re a@*@* and I forgot more than you’ll ever know.
WHAT 3 WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOUR CULINARY STYLE: Fresh, Simple, Creative (not to mention tasty)
PREVIOUS INDUSTRY EMPLOYERS: El Niguel Country Club, La Quinta Hotel, Savannah Grill, Cedar Creek (returned as Executive Chef).
Cedar Creek Inn
San Juan Capistrano
Mon-Thurs — 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fri-Sat — 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun — 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Average cover for one guest including beverage
Smoked Pork Prime Rib with Mango Red Chili Chutney
Recipe by Chef Darren Denny
Pork rib rack for roasting
4 Mangoes – medium dice
1 Onion – medium dice
2 Jalapenos – medium dice
1 T Chili powder
1 T Cumin
1/2 C Rice vinegar – seasoned
1/4 C Cooking oil
1 box Brown sugar
Salt to taste
For the Pork: Season roast with salt, pepper and marjoram. Smoke in electric or charcoal smoker for 2 to 3 hours (apple wood works well for the smoker).
For the Chutney: Combine all ingredients except sugar and vinegar. Saute in oil about 8 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar. Let simmer until mixture starts to thicken a bit. Can be served hot or cold. Substitutions can be made using pork loin in place of the pork rib rack.