Former Kai Guy Michael O'Dowd on What He's Up to at Renegade by MOD and the Problem with Comfort Food
Buchanan O'Dowd in front of Lalo Cota's street art
Renegade by MOD
9343 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale
This is part one of my interview with Michael O'Dowd, executive chef and co-owner of Renegade by MOD. Come back Tuesday when O'Dowd dishes about his favorite cheapo place for a quick bite and offers a few choice words for his headstone.
Michael O'Dowd is having fun. At brand-new Renegade by MOD (an acronym for his initials as well as an apt, '60s-esque descriptor of his playful, contemporary approach to food), he has what he calls a "blank canvas," which is to say the freedom to create whatever he wants without stricture from guys in suits. That's the beauty of an indie restaurant -- O'Dowd's first, which he co-owns with partner Ed Leclere. "I'm not an ACF [American Culinary Federation] guy with the hat and the structure," he says.
Buchanan O'Dowd with custom bike
But clearly, O'Dowd has done his share of answering to suits, making a name for himself during his tenure at Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, where he set his sights on five stars from Michelin and five diamonds from AAA, both of which were earned a few years later. The restaurant has kept its coveted awards for five or six years running, and O'Dowd admits there's a certain pressure in that. Nobody wants to be the buck-stops-here guy if and when a star or diamond is lost.
He also says that, ultimately, he's all about the cooking, a predilection he picked up from his mom, a great cook and entertainer who threw frequent and elaborate dinner parties at their Los Angeles home. O'Dowd's dad was an executive with Seagram's, so parties with bigwig guests was de rigeuer. As a teen, O'Dowd started working in restaurants to earn pocket money. By then, the family had moved to Florida and O'Dowd landed a job at Harbor Island Hotel, where he fell under the tutelage of John Coletta, a chef who, he says, "really pushed me to the next level." O'Dowd wanted more, and after working at a handful of "no-name" restaurants, he moved to New York, where he worked as line cook and later sous at a handful of prestigious places, including the Ritz-Carlton, Le Cirque , and Gotham Bar and Grill.