Food News

Frito-Lay Chef Jody Denton on Brainstorming Sessions for New Flavors and When A Big Idea Hits

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So, where did you work in L.A.? Eureka, and it was the James Dean of restaurants. It died before its time. It was connected to a brewery, and the brewery failed and it dragged the restaurant down with it. But, it was one of my favorite jobs I've ever had.

Did Chef Puck ever scream or throw things? No he was a great guy.

You traveled around a bit after that, even owning your own place; what made you want to take this job at Frito-Lay? Well, I'd been in this business almost 35 years now. And Stephen [Kalil, executive chef at Frito-Lay] called me and asked for my help to find someone to work at Frito-Lay. He explained the job, benefits and compensation. When he finished, I told him I'd like to throw my name in the ring.

Was it a hard adjustment to a more corporate environment? Definitely. One of the things I enjoy the most that I don't miss at all about the restaurant industry is, here at this company, everyone I work with is a professional and everyone holds themselves to high standards and they're ethical. You just don't find that in the restaurant business. We're all professionals and adults and behave accordingly here.

Restaurants are just full of drama. That's just a fact. They are.

What exactly do you do there? One of the things I like about the job is that every day is different and every day is interesting. I work across a wide range of things. It's never just one brand. I'm involved in researching trends, cuisines, brainstorming flavor ideas, bringing those flavors to life here in the flavor kitchen.

What's something recent? The Ruffles Smokehouse BBQ and Tangy Carolina BBQ and a few other things that aren't in the market yet, so I can't talk about those. What we're seeing in the market right now are things I worked on when I first got here.

About the Smokehouse BBQ, I saw a quote where someone said it's like an entire meal on a chip ... One of the ideas behind Frito-Lay culinary innovation is to capture more than just the basic flavor. We're cooking with real food in the kitchen. It's funny when I meet people and tell them what I do, they shake their head and say, "You make chips?" I tell them, "No, I haven't ever made a chip."

We cook with real food and cook with real food flavors and then assess how to bring those to life in commercial means. But that's not even really what we do. We're just strictly flavor idea innovation.

Have you come across something that sounded good on paper but was awful in the kitchen? Nothing yet. We all pretty much know where we're going before we start. There are times when certain flavors resonate better than others, and sometimes when we put something together with a chip it doesn't work as well as it did on its own and we have to shift it and rework it.

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.