Jody Denton, his wife, Michelle, and their two children arrived in Sydney, Australia, this morning to begin a new chapter in their lives after a long flight from Los Angeles.
After seven years in Bend, Denton — the former owner and executive chef of Merenda and Deep restaurants — has entered into a partnership with Tonci Farac, Croatian-born owner of the Wildfire Restaurant Group.
Enjoying a couple of beers with Central Oregon friends on Saturday night at the Deschutes Brewery’s downtown Bend pub, Denton said he will be taking part in the Wildfire group’s expansion into other international markets, including Singapore and Dubai.
“I met Tonci [pronounced Tahn-see] back in the 1990s, when I had LuLu (restaurant) in San Francisco,” Jody said. “He had a restaurant in New Zealand at the time. He loved our open wood-fired grill at LuLu, and when he opened Wildfire in Sydney in 2002, he applied that concept.”
Denton said Farac had made an offer to him at that time, but he was lured to Bend, where he opened Merenda, also in 2002. Jody said that when he closed Merenda on January 4, he also weighed job offers in New York and Miami … but with two young daughters, he was drawn by the call of Down Under.
Wildfire (www.wildfiresydney.com) is a luxurious 350-seat restaurant on the ground floor of Sydney’s cruise-ship terminal, next to the historic Rocks district at Circular Quay. A wall of picture windows look across the harbor at the iconic Sydney Opera House, itself designed to look like a clipper ship with sails unfurled. The menu focuses on South Pacific seafood and grain-fed beef prepared on the wood-fired grill.