Look Out Norman! Here I Come

•09.30.11 • 8 Comments

O where to start on this one.  I have been thinking about  starting into this blog post for some time, but haven’t come up with a great and exciting intro. Like a great movie or meal, I want it to grab you from the very beginning.  So here goes.

About a year ago, My business partner, Robert Painter and I were approached by three sisters, Melissa Scaramucci, Heather Steele, and Abby Clark.  They said to me what I consider to be a fateful remark that I’ve heard from several people over the years, “We want to open a restaurant!” So after months of trying to convince them NOT to do it, they have not listened and are going ahead with the crazy plan anyways.  So Robert and I went to work on a consulting basis to help the sisters get their project going.  Meeting with designers, architects, food service companies, looking at china, flatware, tables, chairs, and meeting with farmers.  And the most important part, we’ve been Cooking! Coming up with some great recipes and we are getting ready to display our work to the public.  After months of lease negotiations, changing the location, revising designs, we are finally on the road to construction! YAY! So now comes the really fun part, of actually building and getting the space ready for the opening.

Through this process, of creating a menu we were all happy with and getting close to needing to hire a chef, I started to put some feelers out for who this person might be.  After talking and thinking about it, I felt as though I couldn’t let thins one go. I mean, I had put so much into the creative process, of the menu, the dining room and the kitchen (which is awesome), that how could I possibly let someone else come in and take it over from here.  So after many conversations with my current business partners at Iguana, and the sisters, we have decided to take on this journey together.  I will be the executive chef at LOCAL.  The concept is somewhat new to Oklahoma but I feel strongly about its future.

The location is in the Normandy Creek shopping center at 24th and Main in Norman.  I am very excited to cook in Norman.  My entire culinary career has been on the north side of Oklahoma city, and the concept of meeting and cooking for Norman is very exciting.  The restaurant will feature an open kitchen, full bar, private dining options, and a really unique and cool patio space.  The most unique part of the restaurant is called “Happy Valley”.  Happy Valley is a children’s area set inside the restaurant where parents can leave their children to be supervised while they dine and enjoy a meal.  Happy Valley will have constant adult supervision, games, toys, a movie area and a wonderful healthy menu.

But what about the Food? Oh yes, the most important part, the food! We have been working with local farmers and ranchers to help us develop food items for use in the restaurant. Our menu will focus around locally grown food, with influences from all over the world.  Featuring steaks and Seafood, pastas, daily soups, organic salads, and beautiful desserts.  We are also creating a retail area in the front portion for those who don’t have time to dine with us, you can take LOCAL with you and finish the preparation right in your own kitchen!

We are looking at a January 2012 opening, and hoping that you will help us ring in the new year with style.

More info can be found at http://www.eatatlocal.com and I will post info about the construction and opening process here, on twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and google+

Cheers

RP

Goodbye #TacoTuesday. You will be missed

•08.11.10 • 3 Comments

I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning before a world in shock. We are all united not only in our desire to pay our respects to Taco Tuesday but rather in our need to do so. For such was her extraordinary appeal that the tens of millions of people taking part in this service all over the world via television and radio who never actually met her, feel that they too lost someone close to them.         It is a more remarkable tribute to Taco Tuesday than I can ever hope to offer her today.

Taco Tuesday was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the world she was a symbol of selfless humanity. Today is our chance to say thank you for the way you brightened our lives, even though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated always that you were taken from us so young and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along at all. Only now that you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without and we want you to know that life without you is very, very difficult.

We have all despaired at our loss over the past week and only the strength of the message you gave us through your year of giving has afforded us the strength to move forward.

We will remember the holiday tacos, and fried alligator, in the spring we will reunite with the irish tacos, in the summer we long for escargot.We will celebrate your greatness with tequila and tecate to wash down our sorrowful tacos.

And here we come to another truth about her. For all the status, the glamour, the applause, Taco Tuesday remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings of unworthiness. The world sensed this part of her character and cherished her for her vulnerability whilst admiring her for her honesty.

The last time I saw Taco Tuesday was on July 1, her birthday, , when typically she was not taking time to celebrate her special day with friends but was guest of honour at a special charity fundraising evening. She sparkled of course, but I would rather cherish the days I spent with her in the fall, when she filled the holidays with joy. Or the from when she was on display meeting President Mandela we managed to contrive to stop the ever-present paparazzi from getting a single picture of her – that meant a lot to her.

The early days of Taco Tuesday there were few that believed, but they came back, then there were many, and now you are gone.  These were days I will always treasure. It was as if we had been transported back to our childhood when we spent such an enormous amount of time together – the two youngest in the family.

I would like to end by thanking God for the small mercies he has shown us at this dreadful time. For taking Taco Tuesday at her most beautiful and radiant and when she had joy in her private life. Above all we give thanks for the life of a woman I am so proud to be able to call my sister, the unique, the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Taco Tuesday whose beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds.

Heres the link that NEWSOK did for the funeral

Funeral for Taco Tuesday | NewsOK Videos

Tacos, not just for Tuesday anymore

•08.06.10 • 19 Comments

With all the fuss over the taco controversy I felt it necessary to post a blog with my thoughts and feelings as this whole thing has developed. What I want to express here is not exactly what happened or specifics, but how I have felt through this process. I want to express my emotions as this fireball exploded right in front of everyones faces.

I must say, I had known for about a week before I said anything on any social media forum. I had already spoken with my business partners about it and discussed options with my attorney. My mind was made up as to what I had to do. I had shared with a few friends about what was going on. My decision was to lay down, not to fight, to succumb to the man. This is not something that comes easily for me, I don’t give up very easily, but decided to do just that in this case. My thought was to rebrand the event. I was not going to stop the event. See, I started “Taco Tuesday” at Iguana to celebrate a milestone: our one year anniversary. It also helped prove the power that social media can deliver. I am very passionate about the weekly event. I by no means ever claimed to be the “inventor” of Taco Tuesday. I merely introduced the nationwide event to my hometown. Taco Tuesday is celebrated all over the country, with many different variations. I chose to make it my own, with my own twist. I’m not going to bore you any longer with the details of this, as I’m sure you’ve heard this story before.

I threw out a little tweet on Sunday morning about 10:50 a.m. Saying I needed to change them name, and asked for suggestions. The response and aftermath is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. People were responding and questioning. It didn’t take long for the masses to piece together who had done this. The tweets were posting and reposting, commenting on comments and coming with their own plans for how it should all play out.  As I was watching the whole thing develop, I couldn’t believe what I was witness to. Monday morning Steve Lackmeyer, reporter from The Oklahoman, called wanting more information for a story to run in the paper. The onslaught of tweets on Monday was more overwhelming than Sunday’s response. My phone was blowing up from friends asking about and offering advice. As Monday wore on, the negativity was growing. People talking trash about the taco chain. I watched and was very grateful to have so many supporters out there to come to my defense when needed. The negative part was not at all what I wanted.  I chose to stay very professional and ask that everyone please just stay positive, that we could change the name and move on.  Maybe now we have a better name?  Tuesday morning I woke about 4:15 a.m. to find out that KOCO, Oklahoma City ABC affiliate, was running a story on the event at 6 a.m. Fox 25 was calling, NEWS9 was coming to cover the story and OKLAVision shows up.  Suddenly I’m the owner of not just Iguanua’s Taco Tuesday, but my very own a media circus.  I honestly didn’t think that tweeting to ask advice on a name change would turn into anything of this magnitude.  I can’t tell you enough — the community support was overwhelming.  Do people love the tacos that much? Do people love me that much? Or are we Okies that bonded together that we are not going to let someone step in and “bully” one of our own? I would love to think the first two are the reason, but I feel like the latter is probably it.  We will not stand for this type of treatment to one of our own.  We will not tolerate an outsider to come in to our comminuty and tell us what to say.  That, my friends, is why this state and city are the BEST!!!! We don’t have to try to be “west coast” or “more like Austin.” I’m sick of that. I want to the rest of the country to say, “WE wish we were more like OKC”.  I have always been proud of the state I’m from, and been a proponent to friends and collegues all over the country, but never before have I been more proud than I am right now.  OKC, I LOVE YOU!!!! AND ALL THE AMAZING, TALENTED, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE THAT MAKE THIS PLACE SO GREAT, KEEP BEING TRUE AND MAKING THIS PLACE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE AND RAISE FAMILIES!!!!

And I’m also confused as to what this has to do with selling Tacos?

So the question of the week.  What will the new name be? well that remains to be seen.  Look at my twitter (@chefrp) and facebook (Iguana Mexican) for updates and voting regualtions.  I can tell you that I never thought killing “Taco Tuesday” would be so much fun, but it is!  BTW, anyone have a hearse and casket I can borrow?

The Power of Salt

•03.16.10 • 5 Comments

There was a story recently that the New York legislature is proposing a bill to not allow restaurants to add any salt to food.  I can understand the concern of allowing guests to determine their sodium intake and wanting to offer everyone healthy options when dining out.  But, salt plays a bigger part in cuisine, than just making something “salty”.

Here is a link to the story   http://ow.ly/1gZSn

Here are my thoughts on salts

Salt-A key ingredient in any cooking.  I don’t care what cuisine you are talking about, where in the world the food originates from, salt is always a key ingredient.  I’m also not referring to just the savory side of things either.  Salt is necessary, though not commonly thought of, as a key ingredient in sweet offerings as well.  The most common misconception about salt, is that it is used to flavor the food.  While it does have its place as a food seasoning, it plays an equally important role in many other ways when it comes to food preparation.  The first way is in preservation.  Salt was commonly used before refrigeration was prevalent as a way to preserve foods.  Salt cured fish and meat have been present for centuries.  Salt and olive oil preserved lemons in the Mediterranean, have been a standard as well.  This is nothing new.  In an age where frozen foods seem to prevail, we don’t think of need to cure something to keep it from spoiling.  This process pulls moisture out of the meat, through a process called osmosis.  This process stops the water movement with the protein and thus preserves the meat.

I use a number of different salts in my cooking.  The main one I use is kosher salt.  Kosher salt is basically my “everyday” salt.  The one that is always abundant around the kitchen.  Kosher salt has larger crystals than iodized salt, thus pulls moisture from meats much better than iodized salts. Kosher salt also is a stronger flavored salt. You need to use less salt to achieve a “salty” taste, thus resulting in less sodium consumed.  Kosher and sea salts are great to use for grilling meats and seafood.  These salts do draw out the moisture in meats, but they will create a barrier on the exterior of the meat, that will help to lock in flavor.

Specialty Salts-

I use a few specialty salts in my cooking, mostly for what I refer to as “finishing” salts.  These are Murray River Pink Salt from Australia, Cypress Black Salt.

I receive a lot of comments about our salsa here at Iguana.  It is something we spent time and wanted to offer a great fresh product that was different from anyone was offering in town.  Salt is a key factor in our salsa.  Not as a flavoring, but because salt has the ability to remove water from protein.  Adding salt to our tomatoes, removes the flavorless water from the tomato and leaving behind the flavorful tomato juice.

Eliminating salt in the kitchen would drastically change the way we see and eat food. Sure, there would be less sodium, but there would also be diminished quality of foods. I propose legislators stay out of my kitchen and I’ll stay out of lawwriting. Hopefully that’s the message that chefs in New York are saying to their lawmakers.

Update 03.19.10

This is from the blog of Michael Ruhlman, http://www.ruhlman.com, my favorite food blogger, as a response to a blog he wrote about salt.

you can read his blog post here

http://blog.ruhlman.com/2010/01/salt-is-it-good-or-bad.html

Dr. John White, an associate professor of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia, a kidney doctor, left the following comment, which I think is worth calling attention to here for those not reading comments:

“As a nephrologist, I would like to make a few comments regarding salt. The primary problem with salt-excess and hypertension depends on one’s inherent ability to excrete salt thru the kidney. We all must maintain strict sodium balance within our bodies in order to maintain normal cellular function. Thusly, we have adapted the ability to this balance at very low levels of salt intake, as well as very high levels. The problem is that some people require a higher blood pressure in order to excrete higher levels of salt, thus their blood pressure becomes “salt-sensitive”. The other issue is poorly understood and appears to arise from chronic ’salt-toxicity.’ Societies that subsist on very low sodium diet and high potassium diets have almost no hypertension. This effect disappears when these individuals convert to our ‘Western Diet.’”

Quality vs. Quantity

•02.23.10 • 14 Comments

So I am perplexed with a question that I would like honest answers to. The dilemma for me is, would you be willing to pay for something that you normally come to expect for free, if the paid version was of higher quality than something that could be offered for free. Example, bread offered at an Italian restaurant, if the restaurant could offer a higher quality bread than could be offered for free? Or if a Mexican restaurant could offer fresh hand-made corn and flour tortillas, have to charge a small fee to cover the cost of said items. At Iguana we made the decision before we opened to make a great tasting, high-quality queso dip, that we would charge for, in lieu of giving away a cheaper, watered down version that some people choose to offer at other establishments.  Or would you rather see this cost built into the price of the entrée already, causing them to be higher priced, themselves, but some people may wish to have these items, and some folks may wish to not have Them however everyone is paying for them. So is it acceptable to charge a nominal fee to cover this cost?

As I stated in the beginning of this post, I want your completely honest opinion.

A. Charge a little for a higher quality product.

B. Build the price of the higher quality item into the entree cost

C. Only charge for the higher quality item and give the cheaper version away for free

Not to worry what I think, but want to know if this is a direction to go. Thanks for the help.

And that’s My rant.

RP

Social Review

•02.20.10 • 13 Comments

Those of you that know me, know that social media is a big part of my life. I enjoy engaging with people and hearing feedback on my restaurant, positive and negative. I am in an industry where it is absolutely impossible to make everyone happy. Or even close to everyone, but, I definitely want to try, and like to hear the negative press, to make me better.

I have thought about this for a long time. My take on the type of site that allows users to go in post a review of a restaurant or business. The two most popular are Urban Spoon and Yelp.  There are others, but these are the most common.  While I do think these types of sites are good to a degree, I think that some things should be taken with a grain of salt.  Very rarely do I see mentions of people who have problems with a restaurant, show that they discussed it with a manager to try and have the problem resolved. Please understand the point of having a restaurant is to have people in, enjoy themselves, and return with friends and family.  We do not wish for anyone to not enjoy their visit.  So please, SPEAK UP, when in the restaurant.  There is a number of things that can be done while you are there for us to be able to correct the problem and make you happy.  It drives me crazy to hear about how someone didn’t like anything at a particular place, yet, they did nothing to bring it to anyones attention except go home and blog about it.

Speculation-I see a lot of people who offer their own insight or speculation as to what the issues are at a place.  For example, one post on Urban Spoon about Iguana says “My only complaint is the slow/sad service, I’m guessing it’s a management issue after talking with a former employee.” What do you mean after talking with a former employee? Are you conducting interviews? Or  because one person said something, then that becomes fact? Has anyone ever left a job they didn’t like? Or didn’t like their boss? I mean, wouldn’t you still work there if you loved it? Our staff retention is among the highest in the city.  Kitchen staff has had zero turnover since July 2009, I mean zero, not one person hired or fired, can you find a restaurant that can tell you that?  As far as Waitstaff, of the 25 I employee, 17 have been there 6 months or longer, and 8 have been there since opening almost two years ago. Not too shabby for a business known for its high turnover.  I don’t want to sound  high and mighty, but, I do have a lot of pride in the way that our staff is treated.  Paid vacation, lots of incentives, I mean I took all of them out for the Superbowl! Who does that? In summary, how can you speculate something with no actual fact to back it up.

Any way back to the original rant, I do want to have honest feedback about the restaurant, but don’t want people to just go and write “Gross” “inedible”, “horrible”, why did you not allow someone to try and fix it? My guess is some people just want to have something to gripe about. I just want to be able to connect with these people while they are dining and correct the problem.  I have had great successes in “winning” over clients this way.  That’s all I’m asking is please give us a chance to correct our wrongs before going and writing publicly about it.

My other problem is validity.   This gives people an open forum, to vent and rant about anything without any proof that they have actually been there.  It could be a competitor, or someone who just has nothing better to do and write a review to see others fail of get bad press. Maybe they are jealous of a particular persons success? I don’t know.  Tell me your thoughts.

John Bennet’s Coconut Cake

•02.12.10 • Leave a Comment

Not to make this a Blog entirely about Chef Bennett or his recipes but as promised I wanted to post this recipe and the instructions for making it.  This recipe is from John Bennett’s grandmother, so there is no telling how old this is, but it definitely stands the test of time.  This recipe for coconut cake does not  require a ton of skill or time.  It is very interesting, in that the way that the custard for the filling is made is very interesting.  In fact, I mentioned this to Chef, and he told me that he had actually taken this recipe to James Beard and he had never seen this particular technique either.  I told Chef I was reluctant to try it because, I didn’t think it would work.  But low and behold, it works beautifully.

The following is the recipe, exactly as Chef Bennett has written it.

1 C Crisco
2 C Instant superfine sugar (domino brand) or granulated sugar put through a food processor
8 yolks (keep whites - 6 in a dish 2 in another)
3 tsp baking powder dissolved in
1 1/2 C milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3C cake flour, triple sifted and measured after sifting. Swansdown is what mama Bennett used 
but Softasilk is more available
cream Crisco in mixer, gradually add sugar until light and fluffy
Add yolks, one at a time, beat well after each
Add 1/2 C of milk with baking powder, add vanilla
alternate milk and flour, scraping frequently
mix until just incorporated and light
Divide among 4 nine in. cake pans, buttered and floured or parchment that has been buttered and floured
Bake 350* about 25 min until light brown and cake springs back Remove, cool a few minutes and turn out

Filling -
2 of egg whites
1/2 C superfine sugar
6 TBSP cake flour
2 1/2 C milk, heated in non stick saucepan
3/4 cup Angel Flake Coconut
4 TBSP butter
 2 tsp Vanilla extract
in mixer, beat eggs whites until not quite stiff beat in sugar then flour
pour small amount of hot milk into egg white, sugar, flour paste stirring with whisk 
Add warmed mixture back into leftover milk in saucepan and place over low heat and cook until thick 
Remove, add butter, vanilla and coconut
While mixture is warm not hot, assemble the COOLED cake dividing the filling among the 3 layers 
then topping with the 4th layer  after I will out skewers or toothpicks to hold cake until filling 
has set completely.
ICING
beat remaining egg whites in mixer with 1/2 tsp cream of tartar until soft peaks form add 1C superfine 
sugar beat until incorporated. 
 DO NOT over beat or icing will be too stiff. 
 Ice cake then use 1C angel Flake Coconut to top and sides. 
 allow to set 30 minutes cut with knife dipped in hot water.  
I do not refrigerate as it loses its supple taste and texture
 
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