Welcome to #CollectiveCountdown. We’ve partnered with the developers of The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails to bring you interviews and info about the 11 chefs and concepts chosen for the soon-to-open Midtown food hall. Major thanks to Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer for sponsoring these posts.
Lots of chefs get started in the business because their parents worked in restaurants, and that’s sort of Emma Ryan’s origin story. Her dad was a chef when she was very young, but gave it up to be a dad. She still spent lots of time with him in the kitchen, and that provided a base of experience.
But the radioactive spider bite for her culinary career began at age 15, when she started having health issues. That led her down a path of healthier eating and nutritional research that ended with a plant-based diet.
“It changed everything,” she said. “It made a huge difference in my health, so I was trying to teach myself to cook that way and to cook the things I loved in a healthier way.”
That’s what she hopes to bring to Plant, her new concept inside The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails.
She had always wanted a restaurant of her own, but when someone first sent her info about The Collective, she ignored it. It was too soon.
Then another client sent her a link to The Collective. It was like the universe was trying to plant a seed in her mind.
“That’s what Plant means to me,” she said. “Of course we’ll have plant-based food, but it’s also about planting inspiration in people’s daily lives.”
Ryan found herself inspired by 105 Degrees, the raw vegan restaurant that opened in Classen Curve in 2009. She talked to one of the chefs there about joining their staff, despite a dearth of professional training.
“He ended up letting my practice with him a few times and then they hired me to do pastries and brunch there for a year and a half,” she said.
Her real passion were the 105 Degrees academy classes, when she taught people how to cook and eat better.
“I loved getting to connect with other people and teach them why they felt so good after eating nourishing foods,” she said.
Ryan ended up teaching at owner Matthew Kenney’s LA location before getting hired work in Turkey as the chef at a wellness retreat. Over the years, she helped open other restaurants, including one in Amsterdam, but she was still battling health issues. She returned to the U.S. to deal with thyroid cancer that had spread to her lymphatic system.
For the last few years, she’s worked with clients for six months at a time and taught cooking classes called Eat to Live every other month.
“My classes have grown from 18 to 80 people, selling out every time,” she said.
When she helped found Vegfest, they thought they’d be lucky to draw in 700 people; they ended up with 4,500.
That’s given her the confidence to push forward with Plant, knowing the growing, changing population of Oklahoma City is clamoring for more vegan options.
“Now a lot of the new restaurants popping up have something vegan on the menu,” she said.
A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be so intense. It’s becoming more and more mainstream and she’s hoping her restaurant can make that transition easier for others.
“I want people to feel like they can live an everyday life. Choosing healthy foods shouldn’t feel hard,” Ryan said.
Plant’s menu will be a mixture of a smoothie bar with some warm breakfast items, a small core menu of soups, salads and quinoa bowls and weekly specials. Right now, she’s planning prices to be $10-12 for a meal and a drink.
“I’m sourcing most of the vegetables locally and the menu will change seasonally based on what’s available,” she said.
Be sure to come back next week for another #CollectiveCountdown, brought to you by Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer. And keep an eye on thecollectiveokc.com for more info as the food hall prepares to open.