Dante Gonzales of Dante Fried Chicken and Ride or Fry fame could star in his own version of Where’s Waldo? I first tried to track him down in LA a few months back, but he proved elusive. Searching for him on the internet leads to various snippets of his past — rooftop parties in Brooklyn, street fairs in London, an episode of The Cooking Channel’s Food(ography). His Ride or Fry truck seems to have gotten off the ground this summer, but you’ve gotta be diligent to track it down on the streets of LA.
Why was I even searching for Dante? Here at Food Republic, we’re all about showing how food intersects with music, parties, style and more. And that’s what Dante’s all about too. In London, he’s cooking in the streets and then making fried chicken with dubstep producer Rusko. In NYC, where we secured a chat with him during the recent Le Fooding series of events, Dante joined a food/music lineup that included Wylie Dufresne and Chateaubriand mastermind Inaki Aizpitarte as well as LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and R&B songstress Muhsinah.
Dante and I met up at wd~50 on the Lower East Side and went around the corner to one of the last vestiges of the neighborhood’s edgy rock ‘n’ roll past, Welcome To The Johnsons, where he talked music, learning to cook from his grandmother and the origin of his new fried chicken taco(!).
You’re a hard man to find. Do you think you’ll ever settle down and open a restaurant?
That is in the plan. I was very reluctant probably for the last seven years but now I’m open to that. We definitely have a plan but what I want to do is mentor some people and bring them into my world and train them like my grandmother trained me. Teach them not just technique but how to put the energy and passion into it.
How did your philosophy develop? Like I’ve seen videos of you cooking and playing loud music and inciting a crowd. How come it’s not just you in front of a stove?
That’s just not what I want to do. When I started, this was an amalgamation of all the things I love. I went to film and music school, but I put myself through school as a chef, and I’ve been in a kitchen since I was 13. I started off as a dishwasher and prep cook and I was always in the kitchen every summer with my grandmother—
In LA, actually. And I would churn butter with her. We would make our own ice cream. Pies from scratch. I learned how to make meringues at 8 years old. So I’ve always had that in me, and it was very hard to prove coming up in the chef’s world, which is very egotistical. And the film world is the same way; it’s starting to change now, but 10-20 years ago… That turned me off. I wanted to do something that was not about ego. I don’t believe in survival of the fittest, stabbing you in the back, push you out the way. I don’t think you should be scared when you’re cooking. I was a very high end post-production assistant in the film world, I was making crazy amounts of money and I just quit. They came to me one day and they were like, You’re throwing all these fried chicken parties. You’re missing work. Do you want to fry chicken or do you want to be an editor? And from that point on, I wanted to fry chicken.
What is it about fried chicken?
All the dishes my grandmother taught me are exciting. Poppy seed lemon meringue pie, blueberry Guinness brisket—a lot of things from my childhood are memorable. So fried chicken just became one of these things that was easy to do at parties, and it’s something I have been doing since I was 8 years old.
Why is your fried chicken special?
I think fried chicken is an heirloom American recipe. I come from one of the last generations where my grandmother actually made things from scratch, instead of Chef Boyardee. So I think when people taste my food in general, they taste that technique, and they always say they taste love. It’s weird and it sounds cheesy, but your energy is transferable to food. High-end food tastes great and I eat it all the time and that’s beautiful, but [it’s better] when you taste something and you say it tastes like a grandmother or aunt made it. And I get this response from all over the world, so I know I’m not crazy.
How is it made differently that sets it apart?
There’s a story behind the fried chicken. Basically it’s my grandmother’s mother’s recipe and it always had oats in it, but I believe they started adding stale crumbs and crackers to stretch the flour out because flour was scarce for awhile, so they would grind up stale nuts and oats and whatever cereals were left over and add that to chicken. Through the generations everybody added something to it and then it reached me and I made my interpretation and made the Sock-it-to-me-fried-chicken.
You’re just back from London. What were you doing?
I did a Tiger Beer party; it was in Notting Hill and I cooked for like 300 people. The following weekend I did a pop-up fried chicken taco stand because I’m launching one in LA. So I launched the party in London.
So you’ll have a regular fried chicken taco truck?
No, you have to call a hotline to know where it is. That’s been our MO since like 2000-2001, when I started. You had to know me or know someone close to me to get in the party.
Why do you tie food and music together?
One side of my family is culinary genius and the other side is music genius. I grew up learning how to play the piano the drums and flute and it was mandatory, and it was also mandatory that I learn how to cook. My granddad is Jimmy Forrest and he wrote a track called “Night Train.” This whole Dante Fried Chicken movement is an amalgamation of everything that has gone on in my life, but it’s also about passion.
What’s the story with the fried chicken taco? Which sounds delicious, by the way.
Someone at the Ride or Fry truck in LA gave me the idea. At first I was against it. I make these black sesame homemade tortillas and I put blueberry Guinness brisket and top it with a coconut almond slaw. It’s not a real taco I guess, but everyone went crazy for it. And someone came up to the truck and said I want a fried chicken taco and I was like naw, we don’t do that. And he left, and then I made one and it was phenomenal. It was crazy.
Did you give the guy who first asked for it one?
He left before I made it. I’ve never seen him again! If I see him again he’s hooked up for life.
Watch Dante on a Cooking Channel segment from Food(ography):