David Peña is the Executive Chef of Braindead Brewing and Bowls & Tacos. His love for cooking and Mexican cuisine began early, in San Antonio. As the son of a computer systems worker and a nurse, both parents’ careers left little time for them to cook. David soon began dipping his toes into the culinary world at age 11 upon discovering his mother’s copy of The Joy of Cooking and studying Julia Child and Jaques Pepin on TV. He left for the University of Oklahoma with dreams of following in his father’s footsteps in computer engineering, but a broken ankle led him to drop several classes. Cooking became a way to occupy his time, keep his hands busy, and his mind sharp.
Like many young cooks, he began humbly washing dishes for Charleston’s in Norman, OK and learned the foundation of every kitchen: hard work. By the time he was 22 he had graduated to kitchen manager at Carino’s and continued climbing the corporate ladder at other restaurants, including the Grand Lux Cafe.
Plano, TX became home and his work granted him the title of Executive Chef at Henry’s Tavern, where craft beer began to occupy a bigger interest for David. Moving to Palomino at the Crescent Hotel put him in close proximity to The Common Table and Dallas’ growing craft beer scene. He met Sam Wynne, part of the Wynne family of Texas restaurateurs, on an idle Tuesday there – they shared a beer and quickly became friends, slowly letting their conversation evolve into talks of a new concept: Dallas’ first true brewpub, one that embraced good beer and good food on equal ground. Jeff Fryman, Common Table’s then-beer cicerone, entered the fold and the three worked to bring Braindead Brewing into the world.
Since the brewpub opened in 2015, David has set the focus of the kitchen into a menu of approachable yet inspired dishes, embracing the idea of local, seasonal, and fresh ingredients. In May of 2017 he and Sam Wynne opened the poké and street taco concept aptly named Bowls & Tacos, finally being able to exercise his passion for authentic Mexican cuisine. David continues to act as Executive Chef for both restaurants, and remains firmly on his path towards understanding the world of food and his place in it.