Meet the Chef: Derek Upton


Article by Christina Barrueta

Photography by Christina Barrueta

What does a professional drummer and chef have in common? “They both fill a creative outlet as an artist,” explains Chef Derek Upton, who knows this first-hand. In his early years as a session drummer, recording with Warner Brothers and Capital Records and touring with various bands all over the world, food was just as important to him as his musical skills. “I would come home from traveling and throw dinner parties because I loved to cook and bring people together over food.”

Born into a Portuguese family of farmers whose celebrations revolved around the family table, his earliest memories are of being in the kitchen.

“Everyone had their own part,” he reminisces, “it was always a group effort.”

As a musician, the more time he spent at home feeding friends and family, the more he realized that was the arena in which he had found his true happiness.

“Cooking was really just a hobby at first, but then I realized how much I loved it.”

Leaving his first career behind, he enrolled in culinary school and embarked on a gastronomic journey including stints at acclaimed restaurants such as Beckett’s Table and Café Monarch. Along the way, Upton became an advocate of cannabis after discovering its health benefits (he lost over 100 pounds and no longer needs to take medication for physical ailments). With a goal of redefining the use of CBD through a culinary lens, you can now find him as the chef of Stay Hungry Kitchen, where he delights viewers with CBD dishes such as Thai coconut chicken wings with ginger-scented carrot puree or caramelized pears with sweet ricotta lemon cream and toasted oat crumble.

“It's our duty to put out amazing food,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s respect. Not only respecting our career, but also the food itself and the people that you're serving it to.” What’s up next for this talented musician turned passionate chef? Look for him to compete in a brand-new cooking competition series called "Cooked with Cannabis" premiering April 20 on Netflix. Look for him on Episode 4! 

Mussels de Souza

“The heart and soul of my cooking has always been simple, authentic food,” says Chef Upton, and this recipe is inspired by treasured memories. “The grandmother of a friend of mine who's no longer living would make this when we were kids, so it’s something I've always made at home. To be able to showcase this recipe decades later is really special. I know that they would be proud.”

Serves 2


  • 2 lbs black mussels, cleaned
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large shallot, sliced into thin rings
  • 1-2 habanero chiles, seeded and chopped 
  • 6 oz Portuguese chorizo (chouriço), diced
  • 1-1/2 cups of India Pale Ale (Upton recommends Helton Brewing Northeast IPA)
  • Fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • Toasted sourdough bread (such as Noble Bread)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a deep sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil. Saute chorizo for 3-4 minutes until browned and fat has started to render. Add garlic, chiles and shallots and coat in chorizo fat. Saute until shallots and garlic turn golden. 

Add mussels and toss to coat with seasonings. Increase heat to medium-high and add beer. Cover and steam for about 5 minutes, shaking the pot a few times until the mussels open; discard any that do not open. Add butter and swirl until sauce is creamy. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

To plate, divide mussels among two bowls. Garnish with fresh thyme and serve immediately with toasted bread.

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