Happy 2014, folks.
Last week we looked at the many gifts Oklahoma City's vibrant food culture bestowed in 2013, so this week we'll take a look forward at what 2014 might have in store — or at least what I hope it has in store.
Cupcake shakin': First, indulge me a moment in continuing with last week's theme of cool occurrences from 2013.
Food Network chose two local cupcakeries for its hit show “Cupcake Wars.” First was Eric Smith of Sara Sara Cupcakes. Though Smith didn't bring home the victory, he did leave a lasting impression — especially in his choice of eyewear. Well played, chef.
Tiffany Magness, owner/chef of Green Goodies, also earned a spot on the show and won her competition, bringing home $10,000 and the opportunity to cater the wrap party for Fran Drescher's “Happily Divorced.” Here's hoping both can use the publicity to fulfill their cupcake goals.
Mobile health: Not quite a year ago, I introduced many of you to Green and Grilled, 8547 N Rockwell Ave., which is just the kind of restaurant most of you will be looking for starting tomorrow. Owners Juan and Adriana Suarez are committed to serving heart-smart foods with no loss in flavor. And while their little corner of the universe is convenient from my house, we all know Oklahoma City is a big place. The good news is that Green and Grilled has added a mobile kitchen to its repertoire with G&G on Wheels. You can follow its movements on Twitter (@GreenGrilled) and Facebook (search Green & Grilled.)
Catfish revival: A few months ago Dino Smalley and his wife, Maria Vitale, closed their Steak and Catfish Barn with an eye on retiring in Italy. As the philosopher Lee Corso often says, “Not so fast my friends” ... Smalley and Vitale plan to reopen Steak and Catfish a little south of their old location, taking over the space long ago occupied by Papa's Little Italy at Interstate 35 and Britton Road. Smalley told me he hopes to be open next week. But don't fret about their retirement plans. Smalley says he and Vitale plan to get the restaurant up and running and turn it over to staffers from the old place. Then it's off to Italy where their “retirement” will include opening a little trattoria that will only be open a few days a week. Few farewells can boast more benefits for all concerned parties.
Say cheese!: Lovera's Famous Italian Market is up to its ribbon-winning ways, and here's hoping the cheese operation at the venerable market in Krebs finds opportunity to expand and cast a broader braided-cheese net over planet Earth. At the 2013 American Cheese Society's annual show, Lovera's Caciocavallo-style cheese took bronze medals in the Aged Provolone and Mozzarella categories, and the Braided Caciocavera was cited as one of the year's top 101 cheeses in the world. Cheesemonger Shawn Duffy has the passion to boldly go where no Oklahoma cheesemonger has gone before, so my New Year's wish is that he find the time and space to chase cheese nirvana.
By George, I think I'm hungry: I don't think I've ever written as much about a restaurant that isn't open as The George Prime Steakhouse. Interurban vet Kevin George has teamed with “Top Chef”-grad Joshua Valentine to bring life back to the restaurant space atop Founders Tower. The build-out and remodel has been frustrating for all parties. The team George has assembled will be a veritable service-industry all-star team in front and back of the house. My New Year's wish is that I get to sample chef Valentine's creations before Valentine's Day.
Mystery restaurant: Cafe Nova shuttered in the fall, and the remaining sign has only teased what might be coming. The Deep Fork group still holds the lease on the property, and now that The Drum Room is established, it's time to learn what's behind the curtain across the street. The Deep Fork Group saw big changes in 2013 with the departure of managing partner Wade Starr and the arrival of chef Beau Stephenson at Deep Fork Grill. I've heard a lot of rumors about what will happen with the Cafe Nova space, but now I'm ready for this game of culinary Clue to come to an end. Chef Chartreuse in the Kitchen with the Cleaver?
Pizza partnership: Now that Chris Lower and chef Kathryn Mathis have given us their spin on tacos (Big Truck Tacos), hot dogs (Mutt's Amazing Hot Dogs) and barbecue (Back Door BBQ), it's time to take aim at pizza. At least that's been word on the street. My New Year's wish for this dynamic duo is for the proposed partnership with Picasso's owner Shaun Fiaccone to come to fruition. The name I'm hearing is Gusto, and the idea is wood-fired oven filled with pizza in the Uptown area. Make mine with the thinnest crust you can manage, top it with goodness and serve it with a glass of wine, stat.
Oh, Henry: Here's hoping 2014 is the year of chef David Henry. The chef de cuisine at The Coach House is well known in cooking circles for his brilliance. His food shows incredible creativity and is informed by a well-stocked arsenal of techniques. I would love to see Henry earn recognition from the dining public.
Eat-ucation: Our local culinary schools have shown great progress and offer incredible promise. Here's hoping the culinary schools at Platt College and Francis Tuttle take quantum strides in educating our young chefs-to-be.
Park House/Ice House: My wish for Park House and Ice House in the Myriad Botanical Gardens is simple: That people discover them. The term “big-league city” gets bandied about a lot, and these two concepts from Peter and Sherree Holloway are bona fide big-league concepts. Park House is open in the park already, and Ice House returns in the spring. Try them, Oklahoma.
Green your thumb: I've often written that part of what Oklahoma City needs to elevate its stature as a culinary destination is a well-educated dining public. Nothing educates the palate better than cooking. Nothing educates cooking better than growing your own food. When you taste the wonder of what nature offers fresh from its soil, it's life-changing. Gardening is not only a path to better eating, but is one of the most therapeutic hobbies you can embrace. My New Year's wish is for everyone who reads this column to grow at least one plant that promises to yield something edible.
Community outreach: When I coached soccer three blue moons ago, I believed our team could not exceed the effectiveness of our weakest player. I have a similar belief about our culture. As long as we have poverty and hunger, we cannot progress to our full potential. My New Year's wish is that 2014 be a year when we find a way to bridge the gap between hunger and satiation. Let's find a way to be more efficient with food — to volunteer and search our hearts for strength and resolve to lend to our brothers and sisters looking to get back on their feet. I believe there's an ancient text that contains a gilded rule that supports this wish.