Get ready for some FOMO, mofos.
On a gorgeous April Sunday evening, twelve of the best chefs in the state gathered at The Hutch on Avondale to compete. The challenge: make the best fried chicken in Oklahoma City.
It all started with a pastrami challenge laid down by Hal Smith Restaurant Group chef Brad Johnson last year. In a bid to build a sense of community in the local chef community, Johnson laid down cash money that he could best his fellow competitors in a pastrami cook-off. Turns out he couldn’t, since Kathryn Mathis (Big Truck Tacos/Back Door BBQ/Pizzeria Gusto) walked away with the prize.
Ever since, Hutch executive chef David Henry has been itching to renew this friendly competition and last weekend he got his wish. For three glorious hours, we were brought giant platters of fried chicken and related delicacies (looking at your chicken liver butter, Mr. Rococo) on which to nibble gingerly.
The crowd was much bigger than a dozen gifted culinary artists. Plenty of non-competing chefs were there to judge, including Victoria Kemp (who runs Florence’s Restaurant), Michel Buthion of La Baguette, Kurt Fleischfresser of ANYWHERE HE WANTS TO BE, and several others. Thirst Wine Merchants popped bottles of bubbly and crisp rieslings.
We had 11 batches of chicken to try (chefs Chris McKenna and Ryan Parrott are a package deal these days) and it. was. glorious. Also so greasy and by the end I kind of wanted to die, but it would have been a good death. A proper death for one such as I.
Fried chicken may not seem like a very nebulous concept, but the amount of variety--from old-school skillet-fried chicken to a sous vide bird and plenty in between--was staggering and, frankly, made it hard to judge.
The rules of the competition included a caveat that I hope all of you will appreciate: the winner of the cook-off must put the dish on their restaurant’s menu, so all you FOMO-ers who M-ed O can taste it for yourselves.
The competition, like the chicken, was fierce. We’re talking some heavy hitters: Hal Smith’s Johnson, Rococo’s Bruce Rinehart, St. Mark’s Chop Room’s Kevin Ward, Parrott and McKenna of Oso/Picasso/Frida fame, David Eagan from Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, both Michael Paske and Jay Mays from Cafe 7, Roy Green from Oak & Ore, Shane Roel from The Hutch, and...the winner:
Executive Chef, Union Wood-Fired Grill
Favela came in hot with a curry-and-maple fried chicken that was unlike any I’d ever had and it’s absolutely wonderful that I (and you) can have it again and again at Union.
“It was pretty neat getting to cook fried chicken with all of the other talented chefs. I didn’t think I stood a chance, so I did something a little different, but still kept it traditional in a way,” said Favela. “I was very surprised that I won, at the same time I’m very happy.”
Order it for yourself at Union. It's listed on the menu as "Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Interesting Spices."
Next up is a meatloaf challenge with Johnson confidently putting another $1,000 on the line. And if you’ve eaten at any of Hal Smith Restaurant Group’s concepts you already know why: meatloaf is always on the menu and it’s a dish they’ve damn near perfected.
If you’re saying, “Greg, how do I get an invite to this thing?” the answer is: I’m not even sure if I’ll get an invite to this thing. But I assure you, we’re working on ideas to make these ongoing competitions a semi-regular event that will allow for an audience to watch (and hopefully taste) what’s the chefs are cooking.