Josh Valentine isn’t sure if he qualifies as a celebrity. When debating the title of a new program at Francis Tuttle’s School of Culinary Arts, Celebrity Chef Series was mentioned, as all of the chefs that are participating are household names in Oklahoma, especially among the foodies.
Valentine charmed locals with his pork-centric, family-run concept Divine Swine. If you were lucky enough to have had it, it almost made you wish you hadn’t. Almost. Like a sweet dream, it was delicious and was gone too soon. Valentine was lured away for the bright lights of the Bravo channel, where he competed on Top Chef.
After the season, he briefly moved to Dallas to work at award-winning farm-to-table restaurant FT33. He’s back in Oklahoma City now, though, and that’s what is important. He is helping put the finishing touches on his new culinary home behind the grill at The George. The steakhouse will inhabit the legendary space atop Founders Tower, 5900 Mosteller Drive.
Diners who are eager to try his creations beforehand have that chance on Feb. 28 at District 21 Restaurant at Francis Tuttle Technology Center. He will lend his culinary knowledge to the fertile young minds in the culinary program as their executive chef for the evening.
“Basically, we’re setting up a pop-up restaurant for the night,” he said.
The hot seat
The executive chef in most restaurants is responsible for, well, running the kitchen. He or she plans the menu and makes certain the recipes are being followed and everything that leaves the kitchen is up to his or her standards. While the restaurant is open for service, the chef supervises every position in the kitchen to make sure everything runs smoothly.
To be clear, Valentine is not teaching the class at Francis Tuttle. It’s more of a hands-on learning experience, and he’s excited about it. He will work with students doing advanced prep work for menu items. Marc Dunham, director of Francis Tuttle’s culinary program, has the recipes so students can familiarize themselves with them in advance.
Valentine looks forward to being responsible for part of the students’ experience. He said he might be a little easier on them than he is on the chefs in his kitchen.
“Usually, I’m pretty much a hardass; I want to do everything myself,” he said.
This characteristic is not unique to chefs, but it is a quality that almost all chefs, especially successful ones, share. Anyone who has worked in a professional kitchen can attest that this type of control is not only expected, it’s necessary. Successful chefs thrive in high-pressure, fast-paced and hyper-competitive situations. Valentine showed he has the chops, and now he gets to give back in a night of mentoring.
“This is a really good opportunity for them, so I’m going to go in and oversee them and let them kind of run with it and get that experience, actually cooking on the line, actually having a chef lean over your shoulder, telling you everything is wrong,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s actually going to be a pretty laid-back night for me.”
The end result will be a four-course, prix fixe (fixed price) meal.
“This will help our students grow as professional chefs, giving them experience with different cuisines and kitchen styles,” Dunham said in a statement. “There is always something new to learn in a kitchen.”
The Guest Chef Series will continue through May, with Russ Johnson, co-owner of Ludivine, on March 28. All proceeds from the dinners support the culinary arts student activity fund.
“They invited me to do it,” Valentine said. “Right now, I am waiting for The George to open, so any chance I get to cook is exciting.”