By Cody Worsham
Troy Deano has a remarkable talent – in addition to his cooking, of course.
“I can tell you every great meal I’ve had in my life,” Deano says, “because it was that memorable. It’s like a football player telling you about the greatest game he played; I can tell you about the greatest meals I’ve had.”
And Deano’s had many such meals, beginning with his days growing up in Chalmette. His godfather ran a restaurant, where he began his culinary career as a dishwasher, and his mother and grandmother welcomed him home every day with classic Southern dishes.
Now, Deano’s the one making memorable dishes.
The former executive chef at L’Auberge’s 18 Steak is making the move to Exclamation Point Hospitality Group, where he’ll head up the dining options for a trio of Baton Rouge eateries: Leroy’s, City Pork, and Frankie’s Dawg House.
His move is a coup for Exclamation Point, which will benefit from his six years of experience as a chef with New Orleans’ famous Besh Restaurant Group. Besh handpicked Deano to join his team in 2005, and Deano worked his way up the Besh chain, with stops at Luke San Antonio, Besh Steakhouse in New Orleans, and La Provence. Subsequent stops included work as the Chef De Cuisine at Coushatta Resort & Casino and 18 Steak at L’Auberge.
For Deano, making his way into the Baton Rouge food scene has been a dream since he was a teenager. A standout high school football player, Deano was torn between attending LSU as a student or playing football for Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. He ultimately chose the latter, but because so many of his friends came to Baton Rouge, he frequently visited – with future thoughts on a more permanent place in the city.
“I always knew it would be a cool spot watching Baton Rouge grow,” he said. “It’s a great place to be. It’s on the cusp of a restaurant evolution. My style is a little different, a little more trendy – upscale food done comfortably. That’s something I’m really interested in.”
Ultimately, that idea of comfortableness is what pulled Deano away from 18 Steak. He felt the urge to connect with his roots in comfort food, while creating a matching atmosphere in the kitchen.
“Walking into these kitchens and seeing the cooks light up when you do something new and teach them something they haven’t seen before, that’s the big thing,” he said. “I remember that same look; I used to have it.
“So it was an easy transition into the next stage of my life: out of a chef coat’s in the formal stuffy kitchen and getting back to wearing t-shirts, jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and just cooking comfortable.”
After 17 years in the business, Deano is excited about the challenge of taking over the menus of Exclamation Point’s trifecta, which offer him a diversity of options as a chef.
“They’re all new enough,” he says, “that I really can step in and own them and make the menu my own.”
That being said, Deano knows not to tamper too much. Classics like Leroy’s famous Shaked Chicken – which Deano calls “a staple of [his] daily diet “ – aren’t going anywhere. He has thoughts for expanding City Pork’s butcher shop and is currently working on four new dishes for Leroy’s, including a Fireball barbecue sauce-tossed fried wing appetizer and barbecue shrimp po’boy.
“It’s a pretty drastic overhaul,” he says, “but it’s a lot of changing little things on a lot of dishes. A lot of people are surprised we’re staying open the entire time. They tell me, ‘I don’t know how you aren’t closing for a month.’”
That’s a task that he relishes as much as any other: providing a quick but noticeable change in the menus without trying to fix something that’s not broken.
“The challenge is walking into an established place and putting my mark on it,” he said, “but that also makes it easy, because it’s already established. You want to shock the world in your own way.”
Deano has come a long way from his days washing dishes in his godfather’s restaurant in Chalmette. Like a great meal, he remembers those days vividly, and now, in a new setting, he hopes to create those memories for others.
“I’m back at the restaurant I started in: po’boys and comfortable dishes. I love the comfort food, and I want to bring those meals to people.”