If you know anything about Texas, and West Texas in particular, you probably know that nothing comes easy around those parts. Just as it has been for centuries for Native tribes and early Western settlers on the hard land, success requires endless effort combined with the right mix of respect for tradition and a trailblazing spirit. 

So perhaps it’s no surprise that one of the region’s fine dining institutions, Macaroni Joe’s in Amarillo, is being driven to new heights by rising star Executive Chef Brandon Mooney who is determined to discover new flavors while balancing traditional methods and tried and true local ingredients. 

Photos: RalphDuke.com

Food was a way of life for Chef Brandon growing up. Working on his parents’ farm in Ovalo, outside Abilene, and then in the restaurant they opened when he was 12, instilled in him a tireless work ethic and an understanding of the importance of quality and local ingredients. It wasn’t until the restaurant brought on a classically-trained chef who happened to wear the same style of flat cap that his father did, though, that his passion and curiosity for the culinary arts were truly stoked. 

Brandon was no longer just baking bread or grinding meat for burger patties starting at 4am every day. His new mentor’s passion for creating great food rubbed off on Brandon, and he felt a new, personal connection to the business.

In the following years, Brandon worked in several kitchens in and around Amarillo, continuing to learn on the job as he climbed the ranks. He draws inspiration from Marco Pierre White, the “first celebrity chef” who was the youngest to ever receive a 3-star rating from the Michelin Guide, to continue his voracious studying and experimentation to develop his skills and new flavors. 

Since being named Executive Chef at Macaroni Joe’s, Brandon has struck a winning balance between honoring the classics and pursuing new frontiers of flavor. Diners celebrating a night on the town can still enjoy delicious pasta, seafood, and Mob Queso (their famous and flamboyant Italian twist on a Texas treasure). But Chef Brandon hasn’t rested on the restaurant’s laurels. 

He’s perpetually on the hunt for the best local ingredients, from produce to protein. Mooney has forged relationships with new farmers, fueling a shifting kaleidoscope of pickled vegetables and interesting jams to perk up various menu items. Chef Brandon also recently partnered with Goodstock by Nolan Ryan to elevate Macaroni Joe’s signature steaks. Since switching to Goodstock’s U.S.D.A. Prime grade Black Label Beef, customers have taken note of the Texas legend’s signature on their plates and complimented the consistently juicy, natural flavor of their perfectly seared steaks. 

Photos: RalphDuke.com

The exciting part is that Chef Brandon is still just getting started. There are new flavor and texture combinations out there for him to discover, particularly in the realm of seafood. But no matter how far his palette ventures, you’ll know he hasn’t forgotten his roots from his signature hat: the same flat cap worn by his familial and professional forebears. 

In that way, Chef Brandon Mooney may be the perfect embodiment of West Texas: a bold young chef exploring new flavors who always wears an old-school cap to honor those who came before him.