The success of Oklahoma chefs on national television in 2012 might be a better indicator of the end of the world than the end of the Mayan calendar.
Earlier this month, chef Josh Valentine became Oklahoma's first “Top Chef” contestant, but last week chef Tabb Singleton, a native of Idabel who now works in New Orleans, became our first to go on Food Network's “Chopped.”
We'll have to wait until winter to find out how Josh does in Seattle, but Tabb left New York City, where the show is filmed, with $10,000 after winning his episode of the Food Network favorite.
Singleton, 34, is currently executive sous chef at Emeril Lagasse's NOLA Restaurant in the Crescent City.
Singleton was born and raised in Idabel, graduating as a Warrior in 1997. Tabb made his culinary reputation working at Abendigo's in nearby Hochatown before leaving to join chef Robert Merrifield's staff at The Polo Grill in Tulsa.
“I had applied with Emeril's Restaurant at the same time, but I felt like the opportunity at Polo Grill was better at the time,” Singleton said. “I learned a lot under chef Merrifield. It gave me the confidence to go to New Orleans.”
Singleton said after a one-week stage in 2007 at NOLA, he was offered a job at any of Emeril's restaurants and chose NOLA.
Landing the gig allowed Tabb to cross off one of three of his top three career goals.
“It's always been my goal to work for Emeril, appear on Food Network and open my own restaurant,” Tabb said.
The way to crossing the second of those goals off his list started with a conversation with NOLA Restaurant chef de cuisine Josh Laskay.
“Chef Laskay was contacted about ‘Chopped' casting call in New Orleans, and he and I discussed doing it,” Tabb said. “I told him if I was gonna do it, he had to do it, too.”
A month after doing a phone interview with “Chopped” producers, Tabb was one of 40 to go on camera for the casting call, which included a 45-minute interview that included many of the same questions from his previous interview.
When Tabb asked how his audition went, he didn't get an answer to boost his confidence.
“They said, ‘We've had worse.'”
Tabb was told they liked his voice, which is gentle and drips with Southern hospitality. Apparently, his drawl resonated enough to get a call back two months later.
“They said I'd been selected as one of the 10 to compete for a slot on the show.”
After a 90-minute phone interview, which delved into his goals, style and personal information, and two weeks of waiting, Tabb was given a date to appear in New York.
“Funny thing about it is, the whole family decided to go,” Tabb said. “A lot of my family had never been out of Idabel.”
Tabb, his parents, and aunt and uncle spent a week in the Big Apple.
They spent three hours in line to tour the Statue of Liberty, saw the sights, ate at Carnegie Deli and had a slice at Lombardi's pizza.
“Everybody's always busy always doing something in that town,” Singleton said.
He said filming the one-hour show took 18 hours of shooting. But it was 18 hours well spent, as Singleton bested his three competitors to take home the prize and make his boss proud.
“Chef Tabb has a passion for cooking and a respect for the ingredients — two qualities that I know helped him finish on top,” Emeril said in a news release. “I love the spirit and creativity that goes into these competitions. It's the same type of environment that we foster in our kitchens: building flavors, adding the unexpected.”
As for the 10-grand, it'll be seed money to begin the arduous task of making that third dream come true.
“I'd like to open a restaurant in Oklahoma City in 2013,” Tabb said.
The “Chopped” champ said in his career he's developed a styled he calls Contemporary Redneck Cuisine.
“Redneck doesn't mean white trash,” he said. “It's the hard workers — people who farm, ranch and hustle for their food.”
He said he likes to take the comfort foods of the South, including barbecue, and combine them with the classic techniques he's learned and the principles of a true chef.
“I'm ready to cross that last goal off my list.”