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Make Me A Sandwich: Chef Kathryn Mathis

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I Ate Oklahoma is brought to you in part by:

You know how people say, “I love a parade”? Well, that’s how I feel about sandwiches. It’s also not how I feel about parades, which are the absolute worst and you know it.

In my pursuit of a better sandwich, I’m asking the best chefs in the state to make sandwiches to learn how they make them so much better than I do at home.

Who is Chef Kathryn Mathis?

It's this boss of bosses right here.

IAO: Where did you grow up?

Mathis: I’m from Guymon, where the main things are heat, horrible winters, barren, dry summers, and cattle. Plus, now there are pigs.

IAO: When did you know you were into food?

Mathis: I was always into food. My mom is a good cook. She made us three meals a day from scratch and I loved being in the kitchen with her. If you asked her, she’d probably tell you she remembers me standing on a stool, stirring. She’d tell me to stir whatever was in the pot and I’d stir and stir and stir until she told me to stop.

IAO: What’s your first sandwich memory?

Mathis: Probably hamburgers. My dad is a hamburger lover. Or sometimes he’d make us fried Spam sandwiches. Or bologna with iceberg lettuce on soft white bread. That was back when bologna came in a loaf, so the slices were never uniform. Sometimes my mom would make fried bologna gravy with toast. That was a Saturday specialty.

I think the first sandwich I made was probably a BLT? I remember eating lots of BLTs. My mom would make them for my dad, wrapped in wax paper, for when he went off in the truck.

IAO: What’s the best sandwich you’ve had that you didn’t make?

Mathis: It was probably when I was down in Austin working for a catering company. The owner was from Baton Rouge and he’d make this little muffalettas.

Mathis’ CCV (culinary curriculum vitae)

My first restaurant job was at Hudson’s in downtown Edmond (owned by the family that had Boulevard Cafeteria in OKC). I waited tables at night, but then they needed a prep cook during the day and I thought, “I can do that.” After a couple of weeks as a prep chef, I knew I belonged in the kitchen. It just seemed like the right place to be.

After that I went to Flip’s Wine Bar as a line cook, making pizzas. I think I was the first female line cook they had.

When I went to Tulsa, I met Chris Lower (her longtime business partner) when he and Kurt Fleischfresser were opening up Montrachet Tulsa. I worked there for five years before I came back to Oklahoma City and worked at Portabello’s, before it became Deep Fork.

I moved to Austin after that for a couple of years. I was chef de cuisine at a restaurant called The Bitter End. That was when I started thinking about maybe opening up my own restaurant.

See, Austin to Guymon is an 11-hour drive. My sister got sick and then my dad got sick and Austin just felt too far away from home. Plus, it seemed like it would be easier to open a restaurant in Oklahoma City than in Austin.

In 2008 I moved back to Oklahoma and I missed being able to get a breakfast taco. Or just to get a taco. There were Mexican restaurants, but you had to sit down and they’d serve you chips and salsa and that cheese-like stuff. I just wanted a place you could grab a really great taco and go.

So I talked to Chris Lower about it and he thought it was a great idea. That’s where Big Truck Tacos came from. Kogi Taco had just started in L.A. Twitter was just starting. Facebook was still new. Kogi was posting his location all the time and it seemed like we could do the same thing.

We figured the truck would be the main business and the building would be a prep kitchen, but it went the other way. It took us three months to get the truck going because the restaurant was so busy we could barely keep up. Even today, I’m not totally sure why it took off the way it did. We had a good price point and I think there were enough people who had lived in Austin and knew about taco places that were craving it.

After that we opened Mutt’s Famous Hot Dogs, which we sold four years ago. Even still, after the tornado, I was getting texts from people asking if we were okay.

Then we opened Back Door BBQ. And then Pizzeria Gusto.

I have more ideas, of course. I always have ideas. But with all the other restaurants opening lately, it’s hard to staff a kitchen right now.

Italian Deli sandwich at Pizzeria Gusto

Get to the sandwich already!

Sandwich name: Italian Deli sandwich

Ingredients: Ciabatta roll, arugula, prosciutto, mortadella, sopressata, hard salami, capicola, slivered red onions, roma tomato slices, peperoncini, provolone cheese, olive tapenade, roasted red pepper sauce.

Tell me more! We toss the ciabatta in the oven for just a second to take the chill off. We don’t have an electric meat slicer here, so we use the crank kind. The red pepper sauce is made with roasted red peppers blended with the oil we keep the calabrese peppers in, which adds some nice heat.

Tips from the chef:

Layering. Layering is everything with a sandwich. I had friends who were moving from Austin to New York, so I made them some sandwiches for the trip. Simple sandwiches, with deli turkey and a pesto I made with some lettuce and tomatoes, and they acted like they was the best sandwiches ever.

So in the Italian Deli sandwich, the layering does a few things. At the bottom and the top, you get crunch. The arugula on the bottom and the peperoncini and onions on top provide crunch. We put provolone over the arugula and again on top of the tomatoes, peperoncini, and onions. That holds them in place, so when you take a bite, half the sandwich doesn’t come out the other end.

Greg’s notes: The flavor of the tapenade hits first, followed by this brightness and burst of spice from the peperoncini, red pepper sauce, and arugula. Then you get that richness from the stack of meats. There’s still spice, but the fattiness of the meats rounds everything off so you can’t wait to take the next bite.

The Italian Deli is on the menu at Pizzeria Gusto daily for $10.

About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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