While all of Chicago was focused on its hockey team hoisting the Stanley Cup, one of Chicago's most celebrated chefs was focused on feeding a lucky group from his hometown to raise money for Oklahoma communities still recovering from a furious and deadly storm season.
On Monday, Oklahoma City native chef Rick Bayless joined the OK Chefs Relief effort by opening three pop-up restaurants to more than 1,000 people and raised at least $40,000, though final numbers won't be available until at least Thursday.
In coming home, Bayless not only helped raise money for fellow Oklahomans in dire need, but galvanized the local chefs' community and got a day named for him in the process.
Bayless was quick to tell anyone who would listen how this event ranked at the very top of events he's ever been associated with.
“You have a team of chef pros in this town that are second to none,” he told the crowd in The Tasting Room.
The message was clear: Oklahoma City's dining community is buoyed by chefs and hospitality professionals who are to be congratulated for their achievement and celebrated for their talent, dedication and ambitious creativity.
Bayless and the local chefs received a standing ovation from both rooms at the Will Rogers Theatre complex, and rightly so. June 24, 2013, was not only Rick Bayless Day, but the day Oklahoma hospitality graduated.
The first pop-up was a downtown event based on Bayless' Xoco concept, an homage to Mexican street food. Chefs Jonathon Stranger, Russ Johnson, Josh Valentine, Marc Dunham, Kyle Mills, Chris Becker and many other local chefs joined Bayless on the east pavilion of Leadership Square to serve three kinds of tacos to about 800 people for a minimum donation of $10 per person.
Chef Kathryn Mathis of Big Truck Tacos was integral in helping the team source ingredients for the Bayless-inspired concepts.
The second and third pop-ups were shepherded by chef Kurt Fleischfresser and his team from The Coach House Apprenticeship Program, and the Tasting Room. Chefs David Henry and Matt Johnson rode herd with help from chefs Kamala Gamble and Barbara Mock.
Forty guests paid $500 a person to join Bayless for a Topolobampo-style service in The Tasting Room, where he demonstrated how to prepare guacamole and margaritas. Guests in this pop-up also received a signed copy of Bayless' book “Frontera Margarita, Guacamoles and Snacks” and a five-course dinner.
The third pop-up, based on his flagship Frontera Grill, seated 240 guests, who paid $60 a person for a family-style dinner by Bayless in the Will Rogers Theatre auditorium. Bayless addressed the crowd before each course to rousing applause. If you weren't sure whether people still watched public television, one need look no further than this event.
The food was a series of dishes based on the authentic, interior Mexican food for which Bayless has become known. It was Oaxacan black mole that earned him the title of the first “Top Chef Master,” and it was Puebla-style mole he served Monday night.
Dessert included a chocolate pastry made with mesquite seeds, a tres leches cake from chefs Gamble and Mock, and two other nutty pastries from Bayless. The meal was part education and all delicious. The number of smiling guests was outnumbered only by the dollars they donated to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to deliver for storm recovery.
Behind the scenes
There is no way the English language has the words nor The Oklahoman has the ink available for me to explain what an extraordinary effort it took to produce this event in a couple of weeks. Kurt Fleischfresser might have been the second- or even third-hardest working Fleischfresser at this event. His daughter, Allie, juggled a list second only to Santa's in length to pull off the OK Chefs Relief's latest magic trick. Kurt's son, Kyle, managed beverage service, which is a heckuva lot more than shaking cocktails when it comes to an enormous charity event.
Angel Stork and Ben Miller made sure guests not only had stellar service but plenty to see and listen to as the pop-ups progressed. Christie Luna of Glazer's worked the bar at no charge for the Tasting Room portion. Every server was working for charity, every bartender was pouring for free.
As soon as I heard about the first event, I wanted to do something to help.”
Chef Rick Bayless,