The current special America's Heartland issue of Saveur magazine was born a couple of year's ago when editor-in-chief James Oseland was in Tulsa for a book event.
The result is an issue of the New York-based food magazine that spotlight's the Drummond Ranch near Hominy, as well as Jonathon Stranger and Russ “Don't Call Me Parsons” Johnson's Ludivine.
Oseland, who is a judge on the current season of “Top Chef Masters” hadn't been to Oklahoma in a number of years before that last trip, but what not too many people know is Oklahoma is a place he once lived.
“When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I lived between Piedmont and Yukon in a suburban housing addition that was about 30 seconds old,” Oseland said.
That housing addition was, and is, Surrey Hills.
“It was more empty lots than houses back then,” he said.
Oseland, 50, explained his father traveled a lot selling office products, and the family moved around quite a bit. He said his trip to Tulsa reminded of his time in Oklahoma and what struck him as a culinary tradition long-rooted in home-cooking.
“One thing that impresses me, but doesn't necessarily surprise me, about Oklahoma cuisine is how fantastically homegrown it is,” he said. “I don't think there are any pedantic lessons to be learned (from the East or West Coasts) that Oklahoma chefs can't figure out on their own.”
Because Oseland has a past with Oklahoma, he said he wasn't surprised at what they unearthed.
“The breadth of the food wasn't a surprise,” he said. “But I have to say the other Saveur editors ... saw Oklahoma as a flyover state with no clear picture of what the cuisine might be. I think they assumed it would be sort of elementary.”
The issue isn't dedicated solely to Oklahoma, though Oseland said our state had enough to offer to fill an entire magazine. He also said Saveur is not done with Oklahoma.
“There's a lot more to cover in Oklahoma,” he said. “Not only what's going on professionally, but in Oklahoma you will find a pretty uninterrupted line of great home cooks.”
Oseland said during his few years here, he remembered visiting the iconic Hickory House barbecue restaurant where a young Rick Bayless worked with his family.
“I went to three state fairs while I lived in Oklahoma, and the highlight of each was we would get to go to the Hickory House afterwards,” he said. “It was very close by as I recall.”
He's right — it couldn't have been more than 10 minutes in those days.
Oseland, who is the author of the James Beard Cookbook Award-winning “Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore,” took from Oklahoma a fascination in one subject unrelated to food: weather.
“I read about Gary England retiring,” he said. “When I was living in Oklahoma, Gary woke in me a fascination for meteorology that left me completely addicted to Oklahoma weather.”
The special issue of Saveur is available in bookstores and on newsstands until the last week in September.
The Oklahoma Restaurant Association's annual convention and expo came and went last week. On top of a chance to see what food trends may or may not find their way to local restaurants, the event includes the Oswalt Culinary Cook-Off. Seven judges, including yours truly, crowned Stephen Schmidt, of La Baguette Bistro, as this year's champion, narrowly defeating Ian Wagner of Southern Nazarene University.
Schmidt had 60 minutes to prepare a meal using items from a mystery basket, including live Dungeness crab, octopus and giant squid. His performance at the two-day event earned him a $3,000 cash prize, a trophy and gift certificates. He was assisted by Bethany Deramo, a culinary arts student at Oklahoma State University, who earned a $500 cash prize, a medal and gift certificates.
Wagner's second-place finish earned him $1,500, a trophy and gift certificates, and his student assistant, Barry Jarvis, of The Culinary Institute of Platt College in Tulsa, won a $250 cash prize, a medal, and gift certificates. Chef Kyle Cowan, of the Renaissance Hotel in Oklahoma City, placed third and took home a cash prize of $750, a trophy and gift certificates; Cowan's student assistant, Oliver Garcia, of Oklahoma State University, earned $125, a medal, and gift certificates.
Turmoil at Tamazul
Matthew Kenney's third attempt at making something of his restaurant space in Classen Curve is off to a dubious start.
Three weeks ago I wrote a story about his new Mexican restaurant Tamazul, describing it as a restaurant built to evolve. Little did I know that evolution was on the fast-track. Two days after the story was published, executive chef Ryan Parrott was let go. Sous chef Chris McKenna was pink-slipped two weeks later.
Not the start Kenney was hoping for in his third attempt to make a go in Classen Curve. Back in 2009, he partnered with Oklahoma City attorney Dara Prentice to open 105degrees Cafe and Academy, which were paragons of Kenney's penchant for turning raw foods into composed cuisine. By the end of 2010, Prentice was gone and Kenney announced he would implement cooking at the concept. That never came to fruition, but a name change to Matthew Kenney came in 2011 and went earlier this year. The space closed for several months to allow for the installation of cooking equipment and a decor remodel.
Bringing in Parrott to guide Tamazul to its launch looked like the perfect match. Parrott successfully partnered with Robert Painter to breathe life into the gone-but-not-forgotten Iguana brand in 2008, and built an army of fans at that concept. He also partnered with pre-Ludivine Jonathon Stranger on the incredible Table One concept and then helped launch Local in Norman for sisters Heather Steele, Melissa Scaramucci and Abby Clark in 2012 before leaving there after about a year.
But for reasons neither party is under any obligation to reveal, the match wasn't right at Tamazul.
Chef Parrott said he was surprised by the decision, considering the restaurant has been open such a short time, feeling he hadn't had time to show what he could do. Part of the problem, Parrott said, was he never got the chance to develop his own menu. Indeed, I talked to Tamazul's director of operations Rob Crabtree a week after the change, and he admitted the original menu was his. However, Crabtree said the reason for the change had less to do with what Parrott could or couldn't do and more to do with new chef Pepe Rodriguez.
“My vision all along has been Mexico City,” Crabtree said. “Pepe has worked in Mexico City; he knows the food I'm looking for like the back of his hand. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring him in.”
Crabtree said he was concerned the initial menu was becoming too taco-centric, and when Rodriguez came available he couldn't pass up the chance to land him. Crabtree brought Rodriguez in from Miami, where he worked in several concepts that fit Tamazul's description. As for his cooking chops, if what he showed at the recent Oswalt Culinary Cookoff is any indication, Oklahoma City is in for a treat. Rodriguez didn't win his preliminary heat, but did rack up more points for his achiote-hued rabbit loin than all three of the winners from previous heats. Chef Parrott has moved on to consult with WSKY Lounge, 228 NW 2. McKenna promises he has plenty to show Oklahoma City diners in the near future.
The style of food chef Rodriguez has been commissioned to create might carry familiar names but arrive to the table looking altogether different from what we are used to seeing some 1,300 miles from Mexico City. While conservatism is synonymous with Oklahoma, let's leave that trait to politics and allow local culture the freedom it needs to grow. The myriad flavors from Mexico and South America can be as subtle and nuanced as any other global cuisine. It's taken us close to 100 years to figure out Italy offers more than pasta — let's not take that long to recognize the audacious majesty of mole or the subtle pleasure of a chile relleno that's been roasted rather than deep-fried.
But by all means, if the service falls short or the flavors don't sing, speak up — in person. Please resist the urge to wax disgruntled from behind the safe but progress-killing confines of anonymous keyboard exercises.
Guernsey Park update
For those wondering if Guernsey Park will ever get its liquor license, the answer is yes. The holdup has been a fire inspection that revealed the multilevel fusion concept needs a sprinkler in its upstairs dining room. For some reason, that fact eluded inspectors on their initial walk-through, but when it came time to award a liquor license, the missing sprinkler was an issue.
Chef Vuong Nguyen predicts the restaurant's bar will be serving by Sept. 11.
Can I get that to-go?
While the middle and upper tier of the local diningsphere continues to elevate, the bottom end has some new concepts coming to the metro. Edmond is on the verge of adding the California chain Del Taco. I lived in Southern California until I was 8 years old, and Del Taco was a favorite. Meanwhile, Dairy Queen returns to the market after an absence of nearly a decade. Del Taco is looking at property in Edmond near UCO, and Dairy Queen is planned for Moore.
Come see me
If you're not doing anything from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday, come by the Barnes and Noble at 13800 N. May Ave., near Quail Springs Mall, where I'll be signing copies of my new book “A Culinary History of Pittsburg County: Little Italy, Choctaw Beer and Lamb Fries.” To order copies for signing in advance, call 755-1155. Hope to see you there.