Dustin Cooke has always been immersed in the culinary world. He grew up in the wine country of Temecula, California, worked dishwashing jobs at fast-food chains and later curated sustainable menus for restaurants.
It’s only natural that he’s stepped into the role of Riot Hospitality Group’s new culinary director.
“I was always in kitchens,” Cooke says as he describes his adolescence.
He discovered in his 20s that the long-term college path wasn’t a fit for him, but rather, culinary school was his calling after a conversation with one of his chefs.
Cooke was advised to finish his last semester of culinary school to “soak up all the food knowledge you can from each location you go to” and focus on his passion. His inner circle of chefs urged him to escape the cycle of unreliable and difficult line cook jobs.
“You use those chefs as your inspiration and figure out your culinary path,” Cooke says, recalling his series of “moving around, moving up and moving on” after completing culinary school.
For about a decade, Cooke worked at numerous Scottsdale country clubs and he kept an eye out for open jobs and opportunities to master his techniques. His experience also includes a stint at The Vig at McDowell Mountain, Glendale’s Gordon Biersch and local restaurant development groups, which gave him management and menu experience.
“I got involved with a restaurant group that was doing consulting with a lot of different restaurants in the Valley, and they ended up placing me as an executive chef in a restaurant that, at the time, was called 3 Tomatoes and a Mozzarella,” he says. “That was my first management position where I was seriously involved with food development.”
He continued to work in menu development before attempting to open his own restaurant. After COVID-19 put the brakes on that, he joined Scottsdale-based Riot Hospitality Group.
As a Riot team member, he hopes to continue the company’s reputation of imaginative menu creations. “My culinary vision for Riot is fun, exciting, sustainable food,” he says. “Everybody here is having fun, and there’s no reason we can’t do that with our food.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel with gastronomy, but I want to offer flavors and contrasts that maybe are new to our guests. Our big word in our office is ‘evolution,’ so as the market changes or as the clientele changes, we’re always evolving and we always have something to learn.”
He’s hoping to revamp American classics. So far, he’s brought in sweet chili cauliflower wings and 10-hour braised brisket at Whiskey Row; black truffle cheeseburgers at Hand Cut Chophouse; and refreshing staples at Farm & Craft, such as Thai-inspired honey sesame tofu, harvest avocado toast and a fried farro bowl.
“Our food will continue to just remain outside the box,” he says.
And these exciting dishes aren’t only found in his restaurants. They’re also served to his most important guests: his wife and four young children.
“My family hates the fact that I never make something twice,” he says. “I treat my house like my restaurant where I research and develop everyday with 12-year-olds.”
Cooke’s adventurous visions for Riot perfectly mirror the brand’s philosophy, and he is eager to continue sharing his ambitions with the Valley as the new culinary director.
“The reason I’m here — and maybe I’m a the-universe-has-a-plan type of guy — is I like food to be fun and delicious, not just delicious,” Cooke said. “Steak and potatoes aren’t exciting, and I want to have places where people are excited to try things.”
Riot Hospitality Group