In the Kitchen: Taylor Pelton, AKA Tenny Cooks, Pops Up Around Rhode Island

From Providence events to cooking for the South County troll artist’s team, a private chef makes a name for himself


Food has always been Taylor Pelton’s sanctuary. Growing up in a suburb of DC that was heavily influenced by Korean and Japanese flavors, he was surrounded by a diverse group of classmates – after-school snacks at friends’ houses could range from Costa Rican to Pakistani foods.

It wasn’t long before he found himself experimenting with recipes in the kitchen. “I’m someone who has ADHD, and cooking was always very stimulating,” Pelton explains. “I was really fortunate to have a great vo-tech program in high school. It was the only thing that really scratched that itch.”

That high school program drove home the idea that a dish doesn’t need to use bougie ingredients or to look like it was plated by a Michelin-star chef to be elevated to a high standard. The secret is in the way the ingredients and flavors are used. “There was a touring student from Johnson & Wales University who made this sweet potato bisque – that I still make at Thanksgiving – and I just remember tasting it and having never tasted something with that much depth of flavor. It blew my mind.”

It’s no surprise that Pelton chose to apply solely to culinary schools, including Johnson & Wales. Although he was initially not accepted, Pelton remembers calling the dean of admissions for two weeks straight – “He said he respected my persistence” – and he got in.

Persistence, or, perhaps, stubbornness, is an important trait to possess in an industry known for its grueling hours and low pay. Pelton started his professional career as a sous chef working under local celebrity chef Eli Dunn at now-closed Eli’s Kitchen in Warren. “That restaurant was pretty unique in that he gave the cooks as much creative freedom as they’d like,” says Pelton, joking that the specials list was often longer than the real menu.

Following a period of burnout, Pelton recently rediscovered the joy of cooking by doing it on his own terms. “I’m cooking the food I really want to cook, working with friends who I really love and appreciate and who share my values when it comes to the industry,” he relays. Through pop-ups, under the moniker of Tenny Cooks, he works with chefs and restaurant owners who host him in their space while playing with menu ideas, flavors, and concepts.

More recently, cooking has offered Pelton a different form of sanctuary in the midst of struggling with the state of global affairs. “I felt pretty helpless in regard to the Palestine situation, and I wanted to really contribute,” he says, “so I started doing pop-ups as a means of raising money for the World Central Kitchen,” donating 10 percent of proceeds from his events to the organization. Each location, menu, and theme are different, but with an enduring focus on seasonal ingredients. He employs a fusion of flavors and cultural influences, a throwback to the palate he developed growing up.

Through events, Pelton has gained name recognition as a private chef, too. “One pop-up led to me being the private chef for the Thomas Dambo team, who built the trolls in Ninigret Park,” he explains. As the artists and builders had traveled all over the world, it gave Pelton the opportunity to incorporate Korean, Laotian, and Thai styles of cuisine, and flex his talents meeting the team’s requests, from developing a vegetarian menu to reducing food waste by making the most of ingredients across meals. One of these feasts was a Southern-style comfort food spread, complete with a black walnut lentil loaf with smoked maple ketchup glaze, smoked cheddar mac and cheese, collard greens, and a honey and bergamot whipped sweet potato casserole with pecans. 

No matter the dietary needs or flavor desires, Pelton seeks to craft a “bespoke menu” for his clients. “I always want to know as much about the client as possible,” he says – what they love and don’t love, their culinary aesthetics, and more – so each dish served will be unforgettable.

From the Dye House to Like No Udder, Pelton has cooked at venues around Providence and beyond. To inquire about Tenny Cooks’ private chef services and find upcoming pop-ups, follow on Instagram at @tennycooks.



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here