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Outlook 2013: Choosing local will help the rising Oklahoma City food scene

Food Editor Dave Cathey says goings on in Oklahoma City are bound to conjure up competitive spirit, which will lead to more ambitious concepts and more culinary adventures for local diners to take.

by Dave Cathey Published: April 28, 2013

The future of the local restaurant industry is partly reliant on something over which it has limited control: you and I.

Putting it simply, we’ve got to become food snobs.

The law of economics tells us the only reliable way to expect the best is to demand the best. But for the food to be the best, we’ve got to know the difference between good and bad. We’ve got to understand that restaurants that use local ingredients not only help the local economy but are offering ingredients with a greater chance to bear the quality of deliciousness.

We’ve got to recognize and respect that paying a little more for house-made ingredients is an investment in the improvement of our local food scene and paying less for less quality is a step back.

When the majority of restaurants are using local ingredients, making foods from scratch and sharing techniques and flavor profiles inspired from world cultures well-represented by the local populace, then Oklahoma City’s restaurant community will be mentioned in the same breath as regional neighbors Dallas; Austin, Texas; New Orleans; Denver and Kansas City, Mo.

Building a movement

We stand on the cusp of this evolutionary leap because Oklahoma City’s restaurateurs have diligently joined the nationwide movement of celebrating local producers and farm-to-fork practices in spirit and to some degree with its money, but there is still room for progress. The Coach House, Ludivine, and Local in Norman are great supporters of our local producers, which has led to others following suit.

The growth that local hospitality professionals would like to see requires a relationship with its constituency, not unlike the relationship between chickens and eggs.

In the past 20 years, local restaurants have grown gradually into a vibrant selection of eateries, joined by a rapidly diversifying collection of choices.

Bringing the world here

In 1993, locals were lucky to find more than two restaurants serving Indian fare. Indian restaurants now are all over the city along with at least two Indian food markets.

Thanks to the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in the early 1970s, Oklahoma City now has an Asian District that is home to Asian restaurants that bear quality that is the standard in this country. And that improvement has led to improvement in local Asian fare — sushi choices have grown exponentially in 20 years, and longtime Chinese eateries that specialized in Americanized menus now offer authentic dishes as well as your favorites from the chow mein and sweet and sour families.

A pipeline with Peru that began via the Catholic Church many years ago has borne a rise in Peruvian immigrants, and now five restaurants serve authentic Peruvian foods.

Foods from the Mexican county of Calvillo in Aguascalientes are easier to find than Indian tacos.

The city even has two Ethiopian restaurants and a restaurant with foods from Nigeria.

Chefs, groups spear growth

Spearheaded by Chris Lower and Kurt Fleischfresser, the local independent restaurant boom of the 1990s was founded on Western Avenue, north of NW 36.

Others, including Peter Holloway and The Hal Smith Group, were huge contributors.

More recently Keith and Heather Paul’s A Good Egg Dining Group has been a main cog in the growth with concepts, including Tucker’s Onion Burgers, Red Prime Steak, Cheever’s Cafe, Iron Starr Urban Barbecue, Republic Gastropub and Kitchen No. 324.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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