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May 23, 2021
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This past Saturday, during the opening of Outpost Cafe, Chef Denis went table-to-table, asking whether everyone was enjoying their food, and whether there was anything he could do to improve things. During this time (when he came to my table) I managed to strike up a conversation regarding some of the park's recent restaurants and changes, and figured some here might find his comments interesting:

Outpost Cafe
A challenge for him was devising a menu that would complement new Jungle X-pedition area; where he ultimately decided the new cold food type options (entrees and sides) to be the best, as the dishes are something you might find in a jungle-type locale.

The restaurant will keep the current sides, which are all ones that he has created. But after some time, his sous chefs may be given the option to change things up; as has been done in Grain & Grill.

And in the creation of Jungle X-pedition, along with its impact on the new restaurant, he admits that he could not even begin to keep up with the sheer number of ideas from the KD creative team.


Jukebox Diner
The changes this year in Jukebox Diner are modeled after experiences dining with his family: Where both he and his son love burgers. But as his daughter is a vegetarian, makes finding dishes tricky, that everyone will eat, when dining out.

So his goal in updating Jukebox Diner was to give families some variety. Where of note, the Alfredo mac and cheese is apparently a personal favorite of his daughter, that he will typically make for her.

Four other Cedar Fair parks plan to replicate his new changes at Jukebox Diner to a restaurant of their own this year.
Apparently, a short coming of these other parks, is they plan to purchase pre-made pot pies. Whereas KD makes theirs completely fresh; including the crust, for which he impressively went into great detail describing the process of.


Grain & Grill
Going into the creation of the restaurant, he of course knew just how popular Panda Express was at KD. So an underlying goal of his was to make Grain & Grill so good, that people would completely forget about Panda Express.

Where as a side note, at that point during the conversation, I admitted how I used to enjoy Panda quite a bit. But in grinning back at him, how I no longer miss it now in the slightest. Immediately he knew my favorite Grain & Grill entree - the crispy pork - without having to even ask me 🙂

But even after all of Grain & Grill's success, he's still astounded whenever he hears someone mention how much they miss Panda's Orange Chicken.


Beach Street at Soak City
In some ways, he sees the Beachside Bowls food truck as the successor to Panda Express. And during the conversation was relaying some of the tweaks made to its menu for WinterFest (when the truck was brought into the park), and how we'll see those changes, along with another change, at Soak City.

The food trucks were not open that much last summer, in Soak City, because of the incredible 100+ degree heat inside the trucks; where he would not let any kid work in that type of environment.

The park has apparently ordered cooling units and other parts to install in each truck. But the global supply strain issues are not helping.


Fruity Pebbles Ice Cream
He wanted to re-introduce the blue ice cream to the park. He admitted that you could just dye it blue, but where that definitely is not the best way. So apparently he spent two weeks developing a brand new blue raspberry-type flavor. But in rolling it out to a small test audience, the response was only: "Meh. It's okay"; much of course to his dismay, given the time he spent on it.

With the blue raspberry endeavor unsuccessful, a sous chef recommended instead they try something completely different: A Fruity Pebbles ice cream. -Note: I don't recall all the details he went into on how they make the ice cream, nor at which location in the park this ice cream is supposed to be rolling out to (he might have said Apple Ida’s). But after hearing him describe it - where I must admit that he's a master salesman when it comes to promoting food - I now definitely need to try it! So if anyone finds it, be sure to point it out.


Otherwise something else he mentioned, which I really admire... Early on after initially coming to KD, in his role as Executive Chef, a personal goal was to create the best amusement park food, anywhere, here at KD. At the time he relayed this ambition to the CEO - where I assume this was to Richard Zimmerman at the Cedar Fair level. But as this was all before inception of Grain & Grill, it sounds like he was not taken all that seriously.

So here we are, almost three years later since Chef Denis has come onboard (much less if you take into account the Covid-shortened seasons). And though there's always room for improvement, it's amazing to think how we actually have prime rib at a park restaurant; and even better, how it's actually part of the all-season dining plan.

He's a great guy to talk to, where he seems to take a lot of pride in his job. So if you see him around the park, I would highly suggest you take the time to chat with him -- where as you can see from the above conversation, I'm amazed how much time he spent chatting with me (one lone patron, out of many, at a brand new park restaurant that day; where I'm sure there must have been more important things for him to do and oversee).

And if you do chat with him... please make sure to not tease him about the Orange Chicken 😉
 

horsesboy

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Otherwise something else he mentioned, which I really admire... Early on after initially coming to KD, in his role as Executive Chef, a personal goal was to create the best amusement park food, anywhere, here at KD. At the time he relayed this ambition to the CEO - where I assume this was to Richard Zimmerman at the Cedar Fair level. But as this was all before inception of Grain & Grill, it sounds like he was not taken all that seriously.

So here we are, almost three years later since Chef Denis has come onboard (much less if you take into account the Covid-shortened seasons). And though there's always room for improvement, it's amazing to think how we actually have prime rib at a park restaurant; and even better, how it's actually part of the all-season dining plan.

He's a great guy to talk to, where he seems to take a lot of pride in his job. So if you see him around the park, I would highly suggest you take the time to chat with him -- where as you can see from the above conversation, I'm amazed how much time he spent chatting with me (one lone patron, out of many, at a brand new park restaurant that day; where I'm sure there must have been more important things for him to do and oversee).

And if you do chat with him... please make sure to not tease him about the Orange Chicken 😉
I have talked to him numerous times and have always found him out going and extremely friendly and passionate about his job. I talked to him earlier this year and he said Grain and Grill was CEDAR FAIR's most improved restaurant year other year in sells and profit margins. He said it was one of the company's top five food location performers last year in sells. He also told me that when he came on board that both KD's and CF's management were skeptical of his vision. Their concern was two fold could you get people to revisit their ideas of park food from the quick greasy grab and eat menu items to full meals. He said one of their big points to this argument boiled down to look these ideas are to heavy people are not going to want to sit there on a sweltering hot day and eat a heavy meal and then go ride roller coasters. He said that doubts about price point were there but were really secondary to that argument. He gives both CF's and KD's management a lot of credit for saying here is the Panada Express location it's under preforming for it's location take it and show us what you got. The results spoke for themselves.
 
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Mushroom

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Chef Denis is an absolute treasure. Everyone should approach him and strike up a conversation with him — not only will he dive deep into talking about what he’s passionate about, you’ll probably be the one trying to end the conversation because he just keeps going- haha!

He once told me that his vision for KD is to transform the park from “a rides park with food” to “a food park with rides.” It may sound a little nutty, but then again, think back to the conversation about KD’s food just a handful of years ago. He really has succeeded in developing a complete 180 in terms of how people talk about KD’s food quality. That people regularly proclaim KD’s food to be better than BGW’s — and even compare it favorably to Disney — literally would have been unheard of a few years ago.

I think his desire to make KD have “the best theme park food in America” isn’t hyperbole — it’s genuine. To his credit, he’s on the right track so far.

Quick side note regarding the fruity pebbles ice cream, he told me fruity pebbles gets mixed directly into the batter and then “steeps.” Then more fruity pebbles are mixed in as the finalized ice cream is served. It’s available at Apple Ida’s. (Pro-tip: try Chef Denis’s new apple cider donuts at Apple Ida’s. They’re absolutely incredible.)

Chef Denis really is the sort of person that everyone here needs to talk to. He’s such a unique and wonderful force in the park, often out in the serving lines helping (and messing with) employees or mingling with guests. A true gem for KD.
 
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All of this sounds amazing and makes me hungry..... but I still want to know what happened with Mac Bowl. Is that something that is outside of his control for some reason? The year that it opened it was some of the best food I had..... That's the only place I would ever go to while there but the second year it seemed like the product just turned to complete crap (and I tried it multiple times throughout the year) to where I couldn't even finish my meal. I don't understand what led to the drop in quality.... I know that at one point I saw someone in the back opening up a vacuum bag of mac and cheese leading me to think that they went from a fresh preparation to a frozen product but I don't know that for sure.

Does anyone have any insight on that?
 
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Zachary

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I honestly think Mac Bowl has simply fallen by the wayside as Chef Denis has renovated menu after menu elsewhere. I agree that Mac Bowl year one was great, but I also think it has been thoroughly outclassed by the new chef's renovations elsewhere. Give me any of Grain & Grill's meats with Grain & Grill's mac and cheese any day over even Mac Bowl's original quality.

At the end of the day, it is my impression that KD's current food goals call for dining options that are FAR more sophisticated than a build-your-own macaroni shop. The park is still VERY MUCH in that transition period where there will certainly be some growing pains, but I've never seen a park with food goals this lofty anywhere before. I'm willing to give Chef Denis a few years of runway to get everything in order.
 
Apr 22, 2019
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I had Mac Bowl in year one and I thought it was pretty awful. Maybe relatively better than other options, but still pretty bad. The macaroni was overcooked/mushy, cheese was of poor quality, and the toppings were only fair. At least from my experience, it's pretty much exactly the same now as it was in year one. My son and nephew still like it, though. But I never get anything there any more.
 
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Apr 22, 2019
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I guess there is one difference between then and now: they no longer have the weird tater tots option.
 

Mushroom

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Even though Mac Bowl is fairly new (having opened in 2018), it still predates Chef Denis’s arrival at the park. So despite its newness, I still view it as one of the “old” restaurants in the park (along with Victoria’s and a few others) that are still in need of fixing. My thought process is that Chef Denis just hasn’t gotten to it yet — he’s probably just put it lower on the priority list since it is fairly new and still not awful.

In my opinion, despite its slightly reduced array of options, Mac Bowl still isn’t bad and its quality hasn’t changed too much since it opened. It’s just that Chef Denis has so radically improved the sophistication and variety of the park’s culinary options that Mac Bowl just doesn’t have the “edge” it had over the park’s other restaurants just a few years ago. Even Dogwood’s Grille — a hot dog stand — has some incredible culinary creations coming out of it these days. I think we just need to wait for Mac Bowl’s time to come.
 
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Given all the Chef has changed in the last 3 years, (well, just over 2 years with the COVID wrench thrown into the mix), he has impacted almost every food location within the park.

The only KD food establishments he has not had a major influence on to date is the Mac Bowl, Border Burrito, and Victoria's Pizza.

I would not be surprised if Victoria's is on the radar for next year. Add 2-3 other pizza types to the existing cheese and pepperoni. Like a Veggie and a meat lovers pizza. Maybe feature a speciality pizza that rotates out every 2-3 weeks (ex. BBQ/Buffalo Chicken pizza). I think he could expand the pasta offerings there to 3-4 entrees. Chicken/Eggplant parmasan, lasagna, and a meatball sub. VP is one of the largest food facilities at KD (dining and kitchen). Many potential possibilities for that location.
 

Jonesta6

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Fresh prepping all ingredients in-house at Victoria's would be a game changer, even if the menu itself is hardly touched.

Low-grade Sysco/PFG dough and sauce for a high priced slice ruins it for me - has ok texture and mouth feel, but also has a chemical sweetness thing going on in both the front and finish... Similar to what you may find with frozen pizza.

It may not be so obvious to some, and it also may be expected for others used to getting crappy food at high prices in a theme park, but with an actual chef in control and making some incredible changes elsewhere, this is a no-brainer of immediate fixes.
 
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I was trying to figure out when I went to the doctor for a dizzy spell and it was after eating at the Mac Bowl the first time. Never got the mac again, even though not a Tots fan. Also learned to avoid it late in the day due to lack of freshness.
 

horsesboy

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Fresh prepping all ingredients in-house at Victoria's would be a game changer, even if the menu itself is hardly touched.

Low-grade Sysco/PFG dough and sauce for a high priced slice ruins it for me - has ok texture and mouth feel, but also has a chemical sweetness thing going on in both the front and finish... Similar to what you may find with frozen pizza.

It may not be so obvious to some, and it also may be expected for others used to getting crappy food at high prices in a theme park, but with an actual chef in control and making some incredible changes elsewhere, this is a no-brainer of immediate fixes.

Based on conversation with both Chef Denis and one of the prior chefs I think Victor's is unlikely to see any significant changes. The volume of business and the speed for which they have to crank out pizzas especially in the summer when Soak City is open just don't make in house dough practical.
 
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