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Chef ‘Fell in Love With Food’ as a Teen

Mark Coakley From BKD's Backyard Joint Credits a Chef at the Mesa Country Club for Taking Him Under His Wing

When Mark Coakley was 17, he got his first job in the food industry working as a dish washer at Mesa Country Club.

Over time, Coakley was promoted to line cook. His hard work caught the eye of the executive chef at the country club, who took Coakley under his wing.

The encouragement, instruction, and mentoring that he received from the chef inspired Coakley to want to continue working in the industry.

Coakley has now worked as a chef for the last two decades, and is currently the executive chef of BKD’s Backyard Joint.

“I fell in love with food when I was in high school, starting out as a dishwasher and working for an amazing chef who I am forever grateful to. He’s been an inspiration to me, and it is because of him that I am where I am at today,” Coakley says.

“Cooking became my passion, my identity, and I absolutely love what I do.”

Now, through his own career as a chef, Coakley says he enjoys supporting people who are new to the industry, just as he was supported when he was a teenager.

“I really enjoy bringing cooks up and teaching them like how I was taught and seeing them being successful,” he says, adding that one of these budding chefs has a very special place in his heart.

Coakley’s daughter Aliya grew up watching him in the kitchen, and has clearly inherited his love for the culinary arts.

Coakley was delighted when Aliya announced her plans to follow in his footsteps, and has even happier when she was also hired at BKD’s Backyard Joint—she's now the pastry chef.

“It’s amazing watching Aliya grow as a chef and person in this demanding business. I am so proud of her and her accomplishments,” he says.

Watching people savor and appreciate the meals he prepares is also something that Coakley especially loves about his career.

“I enjoy making delicious food and getting reaction from people when they eat from menu I created,” he says, adding that he has been with BKD’s Backyard Joint for just under two years.

Throughout his career as a chef, Coakley has seen his share of food trends come and go.

Currently, he says, breakfast foods are especially popular with diners; for instance, people are often more likely to order chicken and waffles for dinner instead of a cheeseburger.

Coakley feels this desire to enjoy breakfast foods stems from a need for comforting dishes that may remind them of what they ate when they grew up—but with a modern flair.

“I see traditional dishes being reinvented, reminding us of childhood and the food we grew up with, and updated to fulfill our inner foodie. More dishes are embracing traditional homestyle concepts, yet with a twist by introducing new flavors and visionary concepts to be experienced,” he says.

While BKD’s Backyard Joint is technically a sports bar, Coakley says he enjoys preparing foods that many people ate when they were younger, but with some unexpected spices, seasonings, and ingredients.

For instance, the Hatch Grilled Cheese is a tasty and modern take on classic comfort food, combining three kinds of cheeses with Hatch chiles and applewood bacon, which is then grilled on sliced brioche.

The Smoked Backyard Meatloaf is another popular dish, and is served with flavorful garlic mashed potatoes, charred broccolini, mushroom demi, and crispy fried onions.

“We like to focus on our menu being from scratch, and doing foods that your normal sports bar would not do,” Coakley says. https://www.bkdsbackyard.com/

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