What's cooking at the hottest new restaurant in Tulsa, called the KITCHEN? I'll tell you, these guys are. (But, more on them in a moment.)
As many of you know, I have been splitting my time between Kansas City and Tulsa for the past several months. It has been for personal reasons pertaining to my Mom's health and work-related reasons pertaining to the expansion of my underground supper club called The Test Kitchen.
See, I have been eating and drinking in Tulsa in an attempt to set up a series of Test Kitchen dinners to launch my second club. I also have my eye on Oklahoma City, and plan to make a trip there in November to scout for Chefs and locations. Finally, I will be visiting St. Louis this week to meet a contact there to see if I could put together a Test Kitchen chapter there as well. I quickly see my Test Kitchen empire taking shape, and I am so grateful. Truth is, I owe everything to the Chefs here in Kansas City, the event spaces and finally the fantastic members, all who have been willing to support the vision of what Test Kitchen is and could be. Your support allowed me to believe in this dream, called The Test Kitchen, and for that I am eternally grateful. It does mean that you will see blog posts, tweets and Facebook postings pertaining to what's happening in food in Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and St. Louis as begin to weave myself into the culinary fabric of those cities as well. The good news is I will be your very own culinary road trip guide. Want to travel 4 hours any direction from KC? I'll have you covered.
So, back to what's cooking in Tulsa with these two Chefs above . . .I met Chef Paul Wilson first. Stocky with a bald head, sharp brain and fast-talking mouth, Paul is a Katrina transplant to Tulsa, OK. Paul had cooked under one of only 50 Master French Chefs in America, Chef Rene Bajeux in New Orleans, and he eventually ended up at The Chalkboard. After his stint there, Chef Paul, flew on my radar when I received notice of an underground supper club in Tulsa called Staage that was headed up by Paul. Using a little Google-magic, I was soon befriending Chef Paul on Facebook. Within weeks, we had met for drinks to discuss his cooking background, my marketing background and our mutual love of the idea of creating true Chef culture in a town like Tulsa, that already had its own unique food culture. We talked of raising the bar on the quality and type of food served by Chefs in Tulsa, and what it would take to get Chefs excited about stepping outside their boxes to cook for members with open and excited palates, willing and game to try anything the Chef was down for making. It was a true meeting of the minds.
\ Then we talked of Paul bringing his supper club, Staage, and my underground supper club, The Test Kitchen, together for a one night only culinary love-fest in Tulsa. We both agreed that each of our clubs would only benefit from coming together, so we began planning our first dinner. That's when Paul told me he had taken a job as Chef de Cuisine working for Executive Chef Ian Van Anglen at a new restaurant in Brookside called the KITCHEN. He encouraged me to come in and eat some of the wonderful things he and Chef Ian had been cooking up in the KITCHEN.
When weeks went by, finally, Chef Paul, texted me and asked, "When are you coming in to eat our food?" I looked at my calendar and picked an evening to come and sit at the Chef's Table at the KITCHEN. This would allow me the best opportunity to talk to both of the Chefs, observe their culinary creativity, as well as see their techniques and skills for getting food out on the table. This is how I research possible Test Kitchen, Chefs. I go and eat their food, and interview them as the dinner progresses. There are certain things I am looking for when considering a Chef for Test Kitchen, and this was going to be their interview, whether they knew it or not. I signed up for the full monty, I was coming in to eat 10 courses with 10 wine pairings of their choice. I was beyond excited.
Upon parking, I realized I had been in the space earlier this year, when it was still the Center 1 Market. I had wandered in to speak to the owner at the time, James Cooper, who is no longer a part of the KITCHEN, about his market and to see if he had any interest in doing a Farm to Table dinner for Test Kitchen. That was when he had pointed out Chef Ian, back in the kitchen space prepping, and mentioned that Ian had most recently worked at Michael Fusco's Riverside Grill and before that he had been in Portland, OR cooking for a restaurant called the Blue Hour that changed it's menu daily.
It was at that moment, I realized Chef Ian had been on the line the night I came in and spoke to Chef Michael Fusco about doing a Test Kitchen event. I knew I had seen him before, with his curly blonde hair and Buddy Holly glasses he comes across as intelligent, thoughtful and creative. He had been pointed out to me, by not one, but two people as being the Chef with the talent for the kind of cooking I had in mind. He was a Chef I already had on my list. Score!
There were other differences in the KITCHEN space from what I remember. The open kitchen in the back of the market now had two tables with four seats total where you could sit and have the Chef's Table experience. Literally seated in the kitchen, you get to watch these two cook, while you order between 5-10 courses for around $10-$12 a course with wine pairings. An absolute steal for the quality of food these boys are laying down. This is literally the best seat in the house, and in my opinion the best way to experience the best of what these two Chefs have to offer. You are putting yourself in their hands. Reservations are a must to secure these seats at the KITCHEN.
The rest of the KITCHEN blows down a long, sleek space past a lovely little bar and towards the front door that faces Peoria. It is in this space that you could order from the regular lunch and dinner menu, they also serve a great brunch on the weekends. Chef Ian changes the menu every Tuesday. I do not know of another place in Tulsa that changes their entire menu weekly. A dish or two maybe, but the entire menu weekly . . .color me impressed.
Their ability to change their menu weekly really has everything to do with their commitment to using local meats, eggs, produce, breads in their dishes. In that sense, the KITCHEN is committed to the goals of the Center 1 Market when it first opened of providing guests with the freshest, best tasting local ingredients and using them in season. Many restaurants in Tulsa talk about serving local, seasonal ingredients, but if you are truly doing it right, it means your menu should be changing more than 4 times a year. I'm just sayin'.
Aside from the restaurant at the KITCHEN, they are also still planning to keep the market open, 7 days a week. Anything that is currently being served on the menu, you can typically buy those same ingredients to cook with when you get home. Like the lamb chop you ate at the KITCHEN? You can take a half a dozen of them home with you to cook. In the Raw Sushi, pre-packaged, is also being sold in the market, giving their neighbors down the street some extra carry-out business.
This place definitely looks more restaurant than market in it's new skin. Although, the market is still very much up and operating, and you will see many of the old customers coming over to shop just like they always have . . . a bit confused right now as to how this modern little restaurant now seems to have invaded their local market. This will change the longer the KITCHEN is open, right now they have been up and running for a month or so.
Sure, there are little things they need to work out at the KITCHEN . . .they have a commercial hood they are waiting on and need to install and they are finally getting a professional service team in place. I'd also like to see more development of a proper wine list. But like most new restaurants, all these guys need is a little time to get all the kinks worked out.
The night of my 10 course tasting at the KITCHEN, I was greeted by Chef Paul at the door and escorted back to the Chef's Table in the back of the space. Snagging the seat closest to the stove, I positioned myself for the best view of the action. I planned to talk to both Chef Ian and Chef Paul as they prepared my meal. I knew my window of focus would be less and less the longer the dinner went on, as I would get more wrapped up in the food and wine and less focused on the Chefs in the kitchen. I had to strike early and often during the first courses of what was to be the best meal I have had in Tulsa to date.
The first thing Chef Paul did after I was seated, was come by and collect the menus in front of me, saying under his breath with a smile, "You won't be needing these." I was now on their turf, in their house, and I was about to be served their food. Honestly, I love the feeling of being cared for that way. After all of the decisions I have to make during my busy day, the last one I want to make is what to order for dinner. It's true! I just want the best and freshest thing you got in today, Chef. No problem, here at the KITCHEN. These two Chefs, had my number.
The one thing I noticed right away, was the geniune respect and true air of collaboration these two share in the kitchen. I have to confess, it is a rare thing to see two Chefs share and collaborate in the same kitchen, on the same dishes, as well as these two seem to working on my dinner that night. They appeared to take turns, back and forth between courses. Chef Ian would do his course, then Chef Paul would follow with his course. I mentioned this to them, and that was exactly what they were doing. They were competitive with each other in a respectful sort of way. However, ordering just 5 courses from them, would be a major source of angst, I suspect.
Toward the last few courses, I knew I had found the perfect Chefs to host my second Test Kitchen dinner in Oklahoma. They were full of creativity and passion for what they do, they clearly loved working with each other and fed off the energy the other brought to the party, their plate presentations were beautiful without feeling forced, the portion sizes were spot on for a tasting, the food was expertly executed and cooked to perfection and both of them enjoyed discussing food and had the type of personalities that would shine if given a spotlight. Afterall, at the end of the day, that is what Test Kitchen is, a spotlight that I shine on Chefs doing interesting and unique menus inside and outside of their restaurants.
Last week, we held our second SOLD OUT Test Kitchen event featuring Chef Ian Van Anglen and Chef Paul Wilson from the KITCHEN. I was pleased to have had the opportunity to introduce these two Chefs to my Oklahoma members last week, but I am even more pleased to present them to all of you. Passion like theirs, should not go unnoticed or uneaten. Go, spread the word. They are that good.
3524 South Peoria Avenue