That kid is now popular Oklahoma City chef and restaurant consultant Ryan Parrott, who, at age 19, became the kitchen manager at Tommy’s Italian-American Grill in Northpark Mall and went on to create concepts and revitalize menus all over town.
You know him but might not know you know him. You read about the restaurants he worked for everywhere. His food philosophy is simple.
“If it’s something I like to eat, I want to share it with others, whether it’s new and exciting flavors or reinventing old ones,” Parrott said. He describes his style as “no frills,” focusing on flavors over flair, which suits his customers just fine.
While growing up, he was inspired by his mother’s and grandmother’s cooking. He now gets inspiration from all around him and considers food — and food consulting — his calling. One gets the impression that Parrott never stops learning or trying new things, tinkering until it’s just right.
He worked in many of the best kitchens in the metro, including The Petroleum Club, Barry Switzer’s Lighthouse Restaurant, Boulevard Steakhouse and 501 Ranch Steakhouse before re-conceptualizing The Mantel Wine Bar & Bistro in Bricktown in 2000. His next gig at Deep Fork Grill in 2003 brought the dish for which he’s most proud: chicken brochettes. Standing the test of time, the chicken and artichoke wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon is still a popular item on the menu.
The toughest part of being a chef? “The hours,” said Parrott, a father of five. “It’s a big commitment — not an 8-to-5 kind of job. It’s demanding and hard on family life. When everyone else wants to play, you have to work.”
The sacrifices on his time and family means it’s tough to plan things, he explained.
After opening nine concepts within the Deep Fork Group, Parrott was looking for a change in 2008 and found it with new partners Robert Painter and Steve Mason to bring back Iguana Mexican Grill, now at 9 NW Ninth St.
With Parrott’s natural inclination to engage with others, social media was a fit — and a hit — helping him successfully launch the revitalized Iguana and its popular #TacoTuesdays, which became a staple until he had to give up the popular local hashtag due to a copyright wrangle with another Mexican eatery that claimed rights on the promotion in another state.
During that time, he also opened a catering business, Seasons, and a one-table concept called, appropriately, Table One.
Parrott credits being active on social media in its infancy with the awareness about his new concepts and support from the community. Through Twitter, Instagram (both @chefrp) and Facebook, he’s established a hands-on relationship with his customers and supports others.
“Social media has been tremendous,” he said. “It’s done a lot for personal brand and my message of trying to be local and preaching for others to support local businesses.”
His favorite social media channel is Instagram, which he uses to post simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter.
The last year has brought even more change with a shortlived stint at Tamazul in Classen Curve before his heading over to Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, 4130 Northwest Expressway.
“I’m proud of our kabobs,” he said.
Parrott admitted he hadn’t planned on jumping around as much as he has but also said that consulting has been a passion, along with local food and pushing the eat-local movement.
“I’ve been good at getting concepts started and helping them open,” he said, “so that’s been something I’ve been doing. But as I get older, I’ll likely want to settle down at one place.”
According to Parrott, one thing remains steadfast: the sense of community in OKC and the accompanying sense of pride. In the last 10 years, he believes the metro has come a long way in its tastes from steak-and-potatoes roots to embracing ethnic foods and cultures. “Our horizons have been broadened. We’re actually branching out and understanding other cultures and cuisine,” he says, including the ability to cook those things at home, thanks to stores like Whole Foods carrying the ingredients.
When Parrott isn’t in the kitchen, he’s busy with his family and giving back to the community via organizations like March of Dimes, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, Boy Scouts of America and the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, to name a few.
With scores of successes and some bumps in the road, he said his biggest lesson is “to be resilient and be humble, know to take care of people every day.”