Meet Pitbull's Former Manager, Who's Now A Mac and Cheese Mogul

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Mike Calderon
Turton (left) and Pitbull. 

When Yo Gotti, N.O.R.E., Bun B and other rap heavy-hitters get the munchies in the studio, they know who to call: Derrick “Chef Teach” Turton. After managing Pitbull for more than a decade, the 42-year-old foodie left music -- but not his network of hungry hip-hop greats -- in 2015 to open his Miami mac and cheese-focused food truck World Famous House of Mac. This May, the popular soul food eatery celebrates its third anniversary, counting the A$AP Mob and Waka Flocka Flame among its regulars.

For Turton, the switch isn't as surprising as it seems. Drawn to the therapeutic quality of preparing a meal, he attended culinary school in South Florida back in the '90s: “I’ve always been able to just go into a kitchen and lose myself,” he explains over the phone from Miami. But after his first chain restaurant gig left him feeling exhausted and undervalued, he turned to the thrills of working as a promoter at the local Club Amnesia instead. “I came out of a kitchen -- 400, 500 degrees -- and then I’ve got free passes to the club, I’m socializing, I loved it,” he recalls. Landing his first record label job in marketing for Luke Records in the early 2000s, Turton clicked with then-signee Pitbull, and in 2003 became manager to the “buddy for life” he now calls simply “Pit.”

But Turton never stopped cooking, often whipping up comfort food for industry elites at home barbecues. As his reputation for drool-worthy plates grew, friends like Bun B requested tubs of Turton’s lobster mac and cheese, wings and other specialties in the studio: “It became a ritual,” Turton remembers. He threw a special dinner when Pitbull signed to Sony; sometimes, he even catered music video shoots, serving Thai-style chicken inside pineapples on set for Pitbull and Chris Brown's 2014 collab "Fun."

At the time, Turton viewed cooking more as a hobby than career option. Then, in 2013, his father passed away, and everything changed. “It made me start looking at life differently -- that there’s no do-overs,” Turton explains. “I was using all my time and my actions focusing on other people’s legacies, when I’d rather be focusing on my own.” Soon after, he called Bun B, who had been trying to convince him to take cooking more seriously for months: “I’m ready,” he remembers saying.

Turton’s cheddar-yellow World Famous House of Mac food truck launched two years later in Miami’s artsy Wynwood neighborhood, with a cartoon drawing of Turton’s father as its logo. He used the brand’s popular Instagram -- which now counts more than 34 thousand followers -- to draw customers, posting photos of Flo Rida and other celebrities as they passed through for a bite. “Sometimes I would say, ‘we ran out of mac and cheese, and it’s going to be about 45 minutes,’” Turton recalls incredulously. “And people would say, ‘ok, we’ll wait.’”

Still, Turton stresses that his venture into food has involved as many pitfalls as triumphs: "It's been a journey," he sighs, recalling one time his food truck broke down on a scorching hot Miami day. Below, the entrepreneur dishes advice on creating a standout eatery.

TEST EVERYTHING

Inviting Yo Gotti and N.O.R.E. to sample his jerk chicken, Buffalo wings and other specialties at home barbecues, Turton realized his mac was the masterpiece: “[Taste tests] are like going to the club and seeing someone sing [Pitbull’s] songs.” 

STAY WEIRD

"Nothing about Pitbull was acceptable when we started -- he was like a UFO,” Turton recalls, laughing. “But the craziest things end up being the best,” which is why he brought Pitbull and Brown Thai-style chicken-stuffed pineapples during their “Fun" video shoot. At his Wynwood food truck, guests can munch on pizza mac and cheese, mango pepper chicken wings, jerk salmon pasta and a handful of other eclectic eats.

ADAPT AS NEEDED

Turton’s efforts to meet the needs of his guests include inventing a speedy cheese-melter to cut wait times in half and even crafting a seafood-centric menu for pescatarian A$AP Rocky. “Every single day is a different day, especially on a truck, but I’m used to managing people’s problems," Turton explains. "You have to adjust and keep going -- the music industry is a lot of that.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the March 3 issue of Billboard.


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