Food News

Oak Chef Jason Maddy on Starting at McDonald's, Tiny New York Kitchens, and More

Jason Maddy is the executive chef at the recently opened Oak in the Design District. Maddy grew up in Austin and, after attending culinary school in New York, worked at David Bouley's Danube, then the Driskill in Austin. A few years ago he was recruited by John Tesar to work at the Mansion, where he spent the past couple of years with Chef Bruno Davaillion.

We spoke to him as part of Three-Course Meal, our ongoing series of chef interviews.

When did you get into cooking? My mom was a great home chef. When I was home during the summer she'd call me and tell me to take ten eggs, put them in cold water, put on the stove and make egg salad. It started slowly like that.


What was your first job at a restaurant? I went through the whole fast-food chain thing. McDonald's was actually the first place. A bunch of my friends worked there too, so it was a riot. Then, from there I worked at IHOP, started as a server, then got back in the kitchen on the graveyard shift. Then, when I was in college I started working at Macaroni Grill and they offered me a spot as sous chef and that's when it became a profession for me.

At that point I wanted to get into fine dining, so I went to the CIA (Culinary Institute of American) in New York City.

Where did you externship? I worked for the Marriot in New Orleans and Baltimore. While I was in New Orleans, I did a lot of staging; one with Emeril and Susan Spicer (Bayona).

What about in New York City? I started with (David) Bouley at the Danube. Once Mario (Lohniger) left the Danube I took that over and ran that for a few years.

What did you learn from New York diners? They're really sophisticated. They know what they're looking for, have high expectations, and a superb knowledge of food. There's so much competition in such a small area it can be intense.

Did that atmosphere help you? It makes chefs really strong because you have to work in such small kitchens -- the spaces are so small. It's pretty crazy. Most New York restaurants have a basement where you do all your prep work, then small cook space upstairs. But it's also kind of fun because everyone is in the same situation. They're all very professional and the cooking is really high caliber. When you're surrounded by that you become part of it. It makes everybody better.

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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.