The Chalkboard is a Tulsa Treasure: Never Boring, Always Original Cuisine

By on June 29, 2015

 

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“Why did I become a chef?” mused Josh McClure. “Because I can’t play guitar. And apart from composing music, cooking is the only way of bringing something new and beautiful into the world.”

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As Josh talked, we ate. He’d just prepared and presented us with this, truly a work of art. Pan-seared Diver Scallops over curry risotto, sauteed spinach, and topped with a pepper ginger relish, said the menu. This dish was indeed as complex as a symphony, with the creamy risotto providing a gentle background to the richly flavored scallop, which picked up a crunchy texture from the sear and added richness from the brown butter in which it was sauteed. The sharp ginger notes of the relish (which was quite fresh and not pickled) were a memorable counterpoint. Lovely music. The scallops are an entree, but we were eating them as an appetizer. There’s a new menu at Chalkboard and we were greedy. We wanted to sample as many of Josh’s creations as we could.

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“What I love about food,” said Josh, “is that you can never master it. Learn and study all you can — chemistry, how flavors go together, different cuisines — and there’s always more to learn. You can never know it all.” He’s learned a lot though. Many of his creations are quite complex, though never fussy. This delicious plate is a good example. It seems very simple. The rich unctuous flavor of the foie gras is picked up and reinforced by a hash full of fatty savory goodness. But it’s not so easy. “There’s duck confit in the hash,” Josh explains, “and that takes me two days to make. There are shredded potatoes, onions, and Malaysian barbecue sauce, which is a blend I devised of hoisin, soy, brown sugar, and rice wine vinegar.” Why the Asian influence? “Oh, I was stationed in Okinawa when I was in the Marines.”

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Dark, intense, with lots of muscles and tattoos, Josh looks the part. He loved the armed forces. Each soldier knew his duties, respected his fellows, and took responsibility for his tasks. Apart from the marines and his time in college, Josh had been working in restaurants since he was 14. “When I left the marines, all I knew was cooking and how to make a bomb. Seemed like an easy choice.” So he went back to restaurants. There’s a clearly defined hierarchy in restaurant kitchens. Everyone knows his rank and task and on a good day they work together like a well oiled machine. It was like the Marines. Josh felt at home. “And another thing,” said Josh. “It’s always so damn hot in the kitchen. Everyone sweats, everyone works, everyone fights and bitches, and then at the end of the day you all reconcile and have a beer.”

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Here’s another entree that makes the kitchen proud. Long Island duck breast served over duck fat polenta and sauteed Chinese broccoli, with a blueberry compote. The duck, of course, is the star of the show. It is cold-smoked (under 75 degrees) and then chilled. Some of the fat is rendered and then, just before it’s served, it’s sauteed to order. All this gives the meat an incredibly rich juicy flavor with hints of smoke and wood. The other components of the dish were fine, especially the blueberries, but to be honest the duck was so magnificent that I barely noticed anything else.

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“I really respect the classical cuisine,” Josh told me. “Escoffier is very hard reading but it pays off. I let the flavors shine, but I put on my own twist.” This delicious lamb dish pays homage to the classics with a demi-glace sauce. But Josh goes far beyond the classics and the dish is basically his own creation. It’s stunning to look at, and it reminds me of those old Dutch still-lifes bespeaking the bounty of nature. But this still-life you can taste. The lamb is rich, earthy and sensual and the rest of the dish amplifies these flavors. That New Zealand rack of lamb was first seared in brown butter then finished in the oven. Underneath is a ragu of black beans, mint, red peppers and Crimini mushrooms. There are soft, yummy roast potatoes to melt in your mouth. And, to pump up the flavor even more, there’s that lemon pepper demi-glace.

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You’ve probably guessed by now that this isn’t your ordinary army food. And in fact after Josh left the Marines he put in well over a decade honing his chops in various Tulsa fine dining establishments, including Tavolo, Prhyme and Bodean. He found time to get a degree at Platt’s Culinary Institute. And all of this experience goes into producing intricate meaty delights such as this pork chop. It’s a two-bone pork chop that’s been brined for two days, dusted with Moroccan spices (mainly coriander and cinnamon), and thrown on the grill. Below it is a layer of broccolini and onions tossed in sesame oil and under that is a carrot puree. The pork was topped with a port wine reduction, and indeed the port flavor permeated the dish (in a good way) and the wine made it even more tender and juicy. “Can I take your plate,” the server asked. “No, not until I’ve licked it clean,” I wanted to say.

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Time for dessert. This is the dreamsicle. If you’re familiar with Roque Heidler’s work, you’ll know that he designed it. He’s the Chef de Cuisine here, Josh’s number 2 man. “He’s my presentation guy,” Chef Paul Wilson used to say when the two of them worked together. “All my life I’ve wanted to be an artist,” Roque once told me, “and I’ve finally found a medium to do it.” As complicated as a Swiss timepiece, this dish qualifies as art. It features two frozen bars. One is vanilla panna cotta and the other is a mousse made with Grand Marnier. They rest atop a “soil” made of citrus-accented granola amidst dabs of coconut gel. It’s so delicious!!

As we begin the dessert, Josh stops by our table. “Do you need anything more?” he asks. When we say no, he says, “then I’m outta here. It’s late and I have to be back here at 6 in the morning to start breakfast.” Then he waves goodbye to the staff, grabs his duffel bag, and heads out the door.

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The Chalkboard

1324 South Main Street

http://www.chalkboardtulsa.com

(918) 582-1964

Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

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