Two of this country's most celebrated chefs grew up in Oklahoma City, and while neither has a restaurant here, both have proved that this is where their hearts still lie.
A week ago, chef Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Restaurant, which has locations in San Francisco and New York City, took the helm of the second night of the OK Chefs Relief Pop-Up Restaurant, which raised nearly $80,000 in two nights.
Later this month, chef Rick Bayless — one of the world's most celebrated chefs — will continue the good work started on Memorial Day weekend by Bowien and practically every chef in Oklahoma City.
Bowien was in town last week, and arrived back in town Sunday in time to see more devastation wreaked by a late burst of tornadic fury. On Monday, Bowien made a special appearance at Ludivine, 805 N Hudson Ave.
Owner/chefs Jonathon Stranger and Russ Johnson let the James Beard Rising Star Chef take the stove on Monday. The restaurant portion of Ludivine is closed Mondays, but the bar opens and serves a blue plate for $10. This week, those who showed up were treated to dishes from the Mission Chinese chef who grew up in Oklahoma City and graduated from Westmoore High School.
Bowien is also one of the cover boys for the July issue of Food and Wine, which is featuring the best new chefs in America. Bowien has come a long way from his days at Massengale Eye Care, where he worked and dreamed of becoming an eye doctor during his formative years. A jump to San Francisco to become a rock star didn't land Bowien on MTV, but it introduced him to the possibilities of what food could become and led to his current status as rock-star chef with Mission conquering both San Francisco and New York City.
Growing up with Sunday dinners at either Chelino's or Mandarin Chinese after church might not have inspired him to become a great chef, but when you see his intricate and playful interpretations of street food, its easy to see those joyful family occasions left an indelible impression.
The accolades couldn't have found a more humble and sincere young man. Bowien's selfless contribution to tornado victims isn't a one-time burst of charity.
Mission Chinese donates money from every main course it sells to local food banks. Mission has amassed more than $200,000 since it opened in 2010.
During his visit last week, Bowien, whose food is among the highest in demand around the country, confirmed that he intends to open a restaurant in his hometown, but said there is no timetable.
Chef Bayless' contribution to the OK Chefs Relief effort is still in the planning stages. Details were few as of press time, but here's what I have confirmed; Bayless is going to have the OK Chefs Relief benefit on June 24 at the Will Rogers Theatre in Oklahoma City. The event will be a pop-up version of his world-famous restaurants in Chicago. What hasn't been determined is which of his three restaurants will be represented or whether it will be a mix of all three. Topolobampo is Bayless' upscale Mexican restaurant, Frontera is the original that introduced the Midwest to authentic interior Mexican food, and Xoco is his newest Mexican street-food concept.
Bayless, like Bowien, grew up in Oklahoma City but had plenty of culinary influence from home. But not in Mexican food. Bayless grew up working in his family's barbecue restaurant, the Hickory House. While he didn't go on to open a chain of Oklahoma-style barbecue restaurants, Bayless has become one of Mexico's greatest culinary ambassadors in this country. He is the author of nine cookbooks, and the star of PBS's Emmy-nominated “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.”
For updates on this event, be sure to check my blog at blog.NewsOK.com/fooddude.