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Paul Maloney, executive chef of King's Dominion
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Seared jumbo sea scallops with fresh Virginia creamed corn, baby radish, arugula and herb oil
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Braised beef short ribs with red-wine reduction, sour-cream-whipped potatoes, grilled asparagus, glazed Malibu carrots and truffled popcorn
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Cheesecake bar with pumpkin mousse, Pop Rocks, OREO cookies and orange-cranberry coulis
There's creamed puke on the menu. It's freshly prepared and served alongside small morsels of corpse cartilage, surrounded by gangrene drippings. I try my first forkful and smile.
Paul Maloney appears to be very good at his new job, harnessing King's Dominion's fun tone and elevating its cuisine all at once.
Upon my arrival at the park, the new executive chef emerges from the park's hidden Caprice Room wearing a mock-torn chef coat that's been splattered with fake blood. It's Halloween Haunt and Maloney has whipped up a playful menu tailored to the affair, and both his uniform and his dining room are dressed the part.
For Maloney, the path to becoming a theme park executive chef was as winding as the tracks of the Anaconda. After finishing vocational school, he joined the Navy and served as a personal chef for 12 years, cooking for admirals and their guests. From there, he worked in the kitchen of the Omni Hotel in Washington, D.C., and then joined a health care company, manning the role of food service director.
"I saw the King's Dominion application sitting there [online] and I thought, 'I'll try it,' " Maloney says. "I never dreamed of being in a theme park or ever expected I'd be a theme park chef."
Despite nearly two decades in the military and the private sector, Maloney was no stranger to amusement parks. The chef was raised in New Jersey and grew up on roller coasters, boardwalks and fair fare, and brought this experience to King's Dominion when he interviewed — a process that involved eating his way through the park and noting every change he'd make if he were offered the position.
These are changes reflected in the aforementioned creamed puke; a private dining experience, typically themed, was one of Maloney's culinary additions. (The creamed puke was, by the way, creamed Virginia sweet corn served alongside scallops, arugula and herb oil.) On weekends, guests can add a four-course prix fixe meal to the cost of their ticket. If they're feeling a bit more peckish, Maloney's changing the food game throughout the park, as well, with gourmet pop-ups like the Bistro 75 beneath the Eiffel Tower, a signature burger with smoky tomato jam, fish tacos with mango salsa in 2015's expanded water park, and creative carnival treats like funnel-cake-battered bacon on a stick.
This weekend marks the last Haunt dinner, as well as the end of King's Dominion's season, though chef has big plans for 2015, whose season starts in March.
"There's lots of work to be done or next year," Maloney says. "All season is a lot of testing and cooking, playing with ideas and menu design and different concepts. We'll try and kick it off next season."