Welcome to #CollectiveCountdown. We’ve partnered with the developers of The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails to bring you interviews and info about the 11 chefs and concepts chosen for the soon-to-open Midtown food hall. Major thanks to Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer for sponsoring these posts.
Two parts of Gary Arnold’s life had to intersect to bring him to The Collective.
Growing up in rural Lawton, Arnold knows plenty about farm life and the rigors of creating the foods that chefs are so often praised for making.
“The truth is, I wasn’t really accustomed to good food until I’d moved away for a bit,” he said.
Arnold had his first brush with fine dining in Michigan. He’d been working in food service, often washing dishes or making pizzas, but he hadn’t made the jump into a “real” kitchen until a friend brought him into a restaurant doing prep work and started showing him the basics.
“I’d applied for a saute chef position, but I didn’t really understand the difference between fine dining and the kind of restaurant chains I’d been working in until then,” he said.
His friend gave him the kitchen brigade education he sorely needed, working his way up through garde manger (aka “pantry chef,” who makes salads and other cold dishes) and helping shape his future prospects.
Local-Homa is what happens when, after a decade of watching and learning and thinking (and Gary Arnold is a guy who thinks a lot), you get the chance to do your own thing.
“When I saw the audition for The Collective, I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” he said. “I’d had ideas. Anyone who works in kitchens has ideas about what they would do differently.”
His plan: Fast fine dining.
“Fine dining can mean a lot of things depending on who you’re talking to,” he said. “When I think about it, I think of a mixture of the refinement of a recipe, balancing flavors and having the knowledge to execute those flavors and make it a real dish.”
No white tablecloths or tuxedo-clad servers are necessary for fine dining that’s focused on the quality of the ingredients and the skills to present them in the best way possible.
Like many chefs, Arnold is committed to supporting local producers, like the folks he knew growing up in Lawton, but it’s more than just a passing fad.
“We have to keep those people doing what they’re doing so we can rely on each other,” he said. “I think Local-Homa is inspired by that sense of community.”
The restaurant will serve a Contemporary American menu, which is Arnold’s sneaky way of saying he’s going to make whatever he wants to make.
“It’s a seasonal menu, so we may do cajun-creole food one season and a more heavily American-Italian inspired menu the next season,” he said. “Our first winter menu relies heavily on French cooking techniques.”
Look for roast chicken (poulet roti) and a pork tenderloin roulade, among others, when The Collective opens its doors.
“We’re tweaking everything right now at the U.S. Food test kitchen,” he said.
He’s using their connections, and making some of his own, to make Local-Homa truly locally sourced — and it’s something he’s committed to for the long haul.
Be sure to come back next week for another #CollectiveCountdown, brought to you by Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer. And keep an eye on thecollectiveokc.com for more info as the food hall prepares to open.