If you can pause between the involuntary heavy breathing produced by the velvety fusion mac and cheese and lip-smacking wings at World Famous House of Mac, you might catch its owner’s fascinating Miami story, which intertwines with Pitbull’s.
Brooklyn-born Derrick Turton came to Miami when he was in his early 20s in an effort to start fresh.
He graduated from the culinary arts program at Robert Morgan Educational Center (then a vocational school) and became a line cook at a chain restaurant, but he hated it so much he almost left the food industry for good.
“I thought I was going to be a ‘Top Chef,’ and I got my first job at Red Lobster,” he says with a smile. “It was either Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, and [orders] were coming out of the register [nonstop]. I was just staring at it, and I was like ‘I’m out.’”
Turton became involved in club and record promoting, and landed a job with Miami’s own Luther Campbell. While working for “Uncle Luke,” Turton was introduced to the young rapper Armando Christian Perez – better known today as Pitbull – whom he would manage for 13 years.
Looking back on it now, that experience and the early days are almost surreal to him.
After filming Pitbull’s first music video for “Culo,” the record label overnighted the rough copy of the video to them. However, when they received it, they realized their hotel room in Daytona Beach didn’t have a VHS player.
“I’ll never forget this shit,” Turton says with a laugh. “We went into a Kmart or wherever we went in, put the tape in the main [VCR], and it was playing on all the [TV] screens. We went from nobody knowing who he was in the airport to he has to fly private now.”
As his career in the music industry progressed, Turton worked with artists like A$AP Rocky and Yo Gotti, while developing personal friendships with others like N.O.R.E., and Fat Joe; in the studio and at barbecues, Turton would often find himself cooking. It wasn’t long before his famous clientele began to frequently request it.
For the pescatarians like A$AP Rocky and N.O.R.E., that usually meant dishes like seafood pasta and stuffed lobster tails. When not working with dietary restrictions though, he had the chance to be a bit more creative. During the video shoot for Pitbull’s “Fun” featuring Chris Brown, Turton served pineapple rice bowls on set. The bowl was a hollowed-out pineapple.
It was Houston-based MC Bun B, a connoisseur of Turton’s lobster mac and cheese, who pushed Turton to once again pursue a career in the culinary arts.
“He told me ‘You need to start taking this more seriously. You’ve got a God-given talent,’” Turton says. “‘If you don’t at least try to do this, you’re never going to forgive yourself later on in life.’”
Finally, after the sudden passing of his father in 2013, Turton decided that he couldn’t wait any longer to begin building his legacy. He bought a food truck. Using mac and cheese as a base, Turton began to combine the flavors of his Trinidadian background, like pelau and jerk chicken, with the foods he grew up eating as a kid in Brooklyn.
“I just started to try to infuse things,” he explains. “If they can do this on a pizza, why can’t I do this on a mac? It just felt like the natural thing to do.”
If you can think of a combo, Turton has probably tried some version of it in his mac and cheese. Currently, the menu features jerk chicken, chicken parmesan, philly cheese steak, surf and turf, and pizza mac and cheese – just to name a few. Plus, he’s also got fire wings and other items.
Eventually, World Famous House of Mac took up a permanent residence at the Wynwood Yard. His bright yellow food truck is now a staple, with lines regularly wrapping around the Yard. Sometimes people will interrupt private events just to try to get in and buy some of his mac and cheese.
While dishing out his creations there, Turton began to see potential for an event series that combines all his passions: music, food, and technology.
During his time in the music industry, Turton had become increasingly interested in tech, the effects of which he saw in real time as music promotion transitioned from grassroots strategies to strategies that relied on digital platforms. Just as he had learned about the field through networking and listening to industry leaders, he believed others would be able to do the same.
With Digital Grass and with support from the Knight Foundation, he launched Tech, Beats & Bytes in April 2017, an event that is part networking, part moderated panel, and part happy hour.
Each week, two guests and a panel host discuss their industries, culture, and their own lives. Attendees are given the opportunity to ask questions and interact with other participants. So far, the event has featured guests like songwriter and producer Rico Love, former Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, and filmmaker Elijah Wells.
“I’m trying to create an environment…where we bring all these worlds together,” Turton says. “We’d also like to do something with the Knight Foundation where we can put some proceeds toward a scholarship or to give back however we can.”
In addition to developing the Tech, Beats & Bytes event series, Turton continues to grow World Famous House of Mac. The restaurant is set to open its first brick-and-mortar location in the coming months, as well as a kiosk in the food court of the MiamiCentral station of the proposed Brightline, set to open in November 2018. He’s also received phone calls about taking the Tech, Beats & Bytes concept to other cities.
“People have told me [about] how they found their purpose. I found my purpose,” says Turton. “I don’t want to be here and just exist. I really want to be the change that I want to see.”