Tripveel sat down with Chef Kevin Snell of Amelia’s in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tell us about your absolute favorite food and why readers should try it if they haven’t already.
I don't necessarily have a "favorite" food. I have foods I get excited about with each season though. Right now it's summer in Oklahoma so everyone is grilling and the farmers are bringing in fantastic produce. So I get excited about eating the produce when it's at its peak in the season. Sweet corn done like Mexico City street corn, all the different sweet pepper varieties roasted and made into a nice salad are just a couple things that come to mind. TOMATOES and PEACHES in Oklahoma right now are where it's at!
When did you get your calling to become a chef?
I started cooking when I was in high school at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I had no real plan for my future or career for that matter, but when I was offered the opportunity to go to a tech school I thought I should just stick with the cooking. I had amazing instructors who loved cooking and they really grew on me. I began to fall in love with the kitchen, fellow cooks, the hours, the rush of service, and all the other crazy stuff that comes with this job. I also found the love of my life while attending that culinary program and now we are married with three kiddos.
What are 3 ingredients you couldn’t live without?
Aleve, ibuprofen and good insoles. Just kidding.......kinda. There are many ingredients that come to mind of importance in any kitchen: mirepoix, salt, black pepper, butter and olive oil to name a few. If you want my personal favorites for me and my family it's probably our home-grown pork, crumbly sharp cheddar cheese and fresh herbs. Kinda hard to narrow down to just a few.
We love plating. Does designing the perfect dish give you a rush?
We spend so much time developing flavors and concepts for each dish, you want it to translate to a pretty dish. I wouldn't say get a rush from it, but its important if I want people to love a dish enough to recommend it and order it again.
What’s one of the most creative dishes you’ve created?
Using Anson Mills blue corn, a cornbread that I make with popcorn and butter puree inside the batter. Then I make an icing out of our house-made bacon, cream cheese, honey and sprinkle with crumbled popcorn.
Share your most recent awards and accreditations with us!
After Amelia and I opened Amelia's, we have had the privilege of being recognized in all the local magazines and newspapers as “Tulsa's hottest new restaurant.” That has worn off now and now we focus on being the best farm-to-table restaurant in Tulsa. We work very hard for our farmers and guests. We have been recognized for this in one of the local magazines, but I don't really remember which one it was. Personally, I think the last thing I achieved was winning "Best Chef" for the Blank Canvas cooking competition in 2017. Being able to be Executive Chef at Amelia's is such a privilege as it is.
What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in top restaurants? What are your thoughts on CBD-infused dishes?
I see more and more restaurants striving to be more farmer-friendly and I want to support that. We have a real problem with our food system in this country and chefs have the opportunity to lead they way with how we overcome this problem. We can show people how to use different cuts of meat and other ingredients to the fullest. Not just ordering the breast of the chicken only, and leaving the farmer holding onto pounds and pounds of hind quarters to find someone to buy. As far as CBD oil in food goes. It tastes like you’re eating a bag of weed to me, so I don't see it as flavor-desired in cooking. However if there were real research that shows some health benefits, I wouldn't be opposed to people using their meals to get it in their systems. Given the taste, I wouldn't put it in our dishes at the restaurant because we are always trying to achieve deliciousness.
Where have you traveled that inspires you the most?
Alaska, Costa Rica and Hawaii. Seeing other cultures and the way they use their local ingredients is very inspiring. Tasting the ingredients in their homeland at its fullest. While in Alaska, I fished every day and was able to eat the freshest wild king salmon, halibut, and arctic grayling possible. Costa Rica has fantastic ceviche made with a specific lime called a mandarin lime and ginger ale. In Hawaii, you can eat poke made from fresh tuna or whatever fish the chef wants or likes.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
I am very simple when it comes to cocktails. I mostly drink bourbon with just a small amount of ice. When in a pool during the summer, it’s ice cold Mexican lagers or sangria. Nothing sweet for me. I prefer acidic and dry cocktails or occasionally a jalapeño margarita.
What do you love about being the Executive Chef at Amelia’s?
My favorite thing about being the Executive Chef at Amelia's would be what we are able to do for our community. We have helped farmers get started in their businesses by buying their products, but also helping them find other businesses to sell to. Our restaurant has been a growing ground for young cooks that want to make a career out of this industry. Seeing the ones grow that apply themselves is so rewarding for me. It's not an easy industry and we are a very busy restaurant. So, if they aren't committed they get weeded out fairly quickly. We give them all opportunities to be creative for their own personal growth. Amelia and I have worked together for quite a few years now and knowing we have each other on each side of the business (FOH/BOH) is refreshing. It would be much less enjoyable if I didn't have her to lean on. I have enjoyed developing a new way of running a kitchen in our area. We strive to benefit our farmers by using whatever they produce, and the whole animals. We now get our chickens, pigs and lamb locally and whole animal. We use all of it to create a fluid menu. This has created a buzz with our diners and gives them the opportunity to try something new each time they visit.