This is the time of year when we makes lists, so in keeping with that tradition, here are the 10 coolest things to happen in the Oklahoma food scene in 2012.
101 course meal: When you consider all factors, this was the coolest thing that happened in the Oklahoma City food scene in 2012. Looking for a challenge, chef Kurt Fleischfresser had to make up his own with a 100-course continuous service. With the help of Coach House chef de cuisine David Henry, Tasting Room chef Matt Johnson and a team of local chefs including Vuong Nguyen, Jonathon Groth, Christine Dowd, Alain Buthion, Chad Willis, Joseph Royer and Kathryn Mathis. This was an undertaking worth national attention, and the result was spotless. Here's hoping they go for 110 in 2013.
Kitchen 324: Though it just opened before Christmas, the early returns are impressive: A French-inspired, localcentric breakfast and lunch emporium for downtown. This is a much-needed signature spot for ultrahigh quality food with price points that will allow it to be a weekly, or in some cases daily, stop for our downtown. There is a new downtown standard-bearer for quality, and it is Kitchen 324.
Joshua Valentine: If JV hadn't run off to Dallas the second he got back from filming the ongoing tenth season of Bravo's “Top Chef,” this would've easily been the No. 1 coolest thing to happen in local foodsphere. Even with the untimely exodus to the brand-new, buzz-heavy FT-33 south of the Red River, Valentine's selection for the top culinary competition show is enormous for this market. Thanks to Valentine's Oklahoma pride, he's made it very clear to the “Top Chef” world that there's plenty cooking where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.
Francis Tuttle Culinary School: Under the direction of chef Marc Dunham, The Francis Tuttle CareerTech opened its School of Culinary Arts in 2012. The ambitious program will offer some unparalleled opportunities for would-be chefs and cooks as it continues to unfold. The school, located within the Rockwell Campus, has already opened a cafeteria open to the public and Cravings bakery, which is open weekdays till 7 p.m., with a full-service restaurant set to open in the spring of 2013. You'll read plenty more about the program early next year. For now, rest assured Oklahoma City got a lot cooler when this place opened.
Tabb Singleton: Turns out chef Valentine wasn't the only one to pop up on national television during the late fall. Idabel-native Tabb Singleton, who currently toils as executive sous chef at Emeril's NOLA in New Orleans, made an appearance on Food Network's “Chopped” in November and took home $10,000 for his efforts. Singleton says his goal is to open a restaurant in Oklahoma City by the end of 2013, so there's a good chance he'll make the list again next year.
Uptown Grocery Company: While Whole Foods opened at the end of 2011, sending shock waves throughout the local grocery industry, Susan and Hank Binkowsi decided to look the national chain right in the eye and retort with its own high-end concept located in far northwest Edmond. With artisan breads, pastry, meats and prepared foods with plenty of local and gourmet ingredients on every aisle, Uptown also sells the simple stuff. Its success will breed expansion of that brand and likely the birth of others like it. The result is really great choices for Oklahoma City.
Local in Norman: It was a big year in Norman. Chuy's Tex-Mex Cafe came to town, the Thien family of Grand House fame opened a concept there, Andy Gmeiner of Royal Bavaria opened a new restaurant and bar on Main St., Urban Roots left for downtown Oklahoma City and Forward Foods moved into a bigger space. But the biggest news in Norman food news was the opening of Local, a wildly ambitious farm-to-fork concept headed by veteran chef Ryan Parrott
Vast opens: This would've ranked higher if early feedback wasn't so low. While what the anonymous are saying about your restaurant online lacks full-fledged credibility, where there's smoke, there's usually a flame or two. Keep in mind expectations were off the charts for this sky-high restaurant, and chef Andrew Black has the know-how and skill to right the ship at what still promises to be one of Oklahoma City's most important restaurants. Here's hoping Vast makes this list next year for making its mark with inventive, food-forward ideas executed with precision and aplomb.
Christine Dowd (Trattoria closes; moves to Metro): When chef Christine Dowd and partner Maggie Howell closed Trattoria il Centro in early 2012, it was the first really bad news of the year. But then Dowd found a home with the venerable Metro Wine Bar and Bistro, and all was right with the world. Dowd, a born leader, was just what the doctor ordered for one of Oklahoma City's most respected fine dining restaurants. Owner Chris Lower told me the restaurant set a record for covers on one Saturday in December with zero late tickets.
Savory Spice Shop: Able Blakely and his mother Debra opened Savory Spice Shop in the fall, signaling the city was ready to support a “salt and pepper” shop. The returns have so far been encouraging. A specialty shop like this is a good sign the food culture is evolving in the right direction.
These weren't the only 10 cool things to happen, here are some other notable happenings included:
Both Golden Phoenix and Redrock Canyon Grill sustained fires severe enough to shut the restaurants down for several months. In both cases, the concepts returned bigger and brighter than before.
Little ol' S&B Burger Joint opened its second store this year, a shiny beacon of rock ‘n' roll wrapped in bacon and served with spicy mayo. Since then, new stores have popped up in south Oklahoma City and Norman.
We lost one of the city's Mexican food purveyors lost one their greatest and most important figures when Cesar Aita, better known as Nino, passed away last summer. The founder of the Nino's group, which once swelled to five units plus a barbecue joint, was 69.
The opening of Gabriella's Italian Grill and Pizzeria not only breathed life into the old County Line/Kentucky Club space on NE 63 Street, but also brought a taste of Krebs to the big city. Owner Vicki Muhs was born and raised in Krebs in the kitchens of The Isle of Capri, an Oklahoma mainstay for family-style Italian food.
The Mule opened quietly in the Plaza District in October and nary a quiet day has passed since. Owners John Harris, Cody Rowan and Joey Morris thought they had a fun idea, but response is on the verge of historic. The gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in kitschy-cook environs have captured the imagination of local foodies.
Green Chile Kitchen Route 66 has opened in Yukon. I'll have a lot more about this opening in January, but after two autumn visits it's clear to see why this concept has been so successful for founder and Yukon-native Trevor Logan in San Francisco.
Happy New Year, everybody!