Cover Story: Fine dining is possible at almost every price range. We share tips, tricks from local chefs 

(Photography: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street)
  • Photography: Mark Hancock / Design: Christopher Street

The most expensive part of fine dining is paying the rent.

So when executives from Devon Energy and Hobby Lobby get together to break bread and discuss new natural gas-based crafting solutions, it doesn’t matter if they’re ordering steak or lobster or a big plate of sushi. What they’re really paying for is the building, tablecloths, well-dressed men and women bringing them their food and highly trained chefs in the kitchen putting it together.

In other words, if you want to eat like a rich person, you need to learn to cook.

Tastemaker

David Henry knows how to cook. As chef de cuisine at The Coach House, 6437 Avondale Drive, he’s adept at preparing almost any ingredient and meticulously assembles each dish so that it is as pleasing to the eye as it is the taste buds.

He’s a proponent of “fussy” food, tending to each ingredient, choosing the best and consciously designing the plate.

The result is works of art he knows will be destroyed by hungry diners.

Attention to the look of food is one signifier of a gourmet meal, which is easy to see as Henry gingerly clears stray crumbs from a plate and places Jackson Pollock-like dots of green and brown sauces amid the seared cubes of sweet potato in his salad.

That’s what rich people eat: small portions, artfully presented.

More time for less food might not be the ideal meal, he said, so he recommends looking for ingredients that require a little time and effort for a lot of flavor.

click to enlarge David Henry carefully plates a dish at The Coach House. (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • David Henry carefully plates a dish at The Coach House.

Affordable luxury

“[Beef] short ribs used to be the best inexpensive cut of meat out there, if you know what you’re doing,” he said. “Now, it’s so posh that it’s expensive.”

But short ribs, a narrow cut of beef near the breastbone that includes the ends of the ribs, are no longer a secret. Check the menus at Viceroy Grille, where you can get short rib braised into tender submission as sauerbraten, or Kitchen No. 324, where you can dine on a sweet ragu sauce atop pappardelle pasta.

With a price fluctuating around $8 per pound, it’s still not a bad choice for those on a budget, but it does require careful treatment to extract the most from the meat. Try roasting or braising to get very tender beef, and be sure to use the bones to make stock.

Henry said one of his favorite low-budget, high-flavor dishes is one that mimics a high-priced ingredient: chicken livers.

At The Coach House, he’s a fan of using foie gras, or fattened goose or duck liver, as an ingredient, a garnish or its own entree. It’s luxurious specifically because of how fatty and flavorful it is.

Chicken livers, on the other hand, are $3.99 for a quart and take little work to make them delicious, Henry said.

“My father and I used to cook them on Thanksgiving. We’d saute the livers with butter and shallots or garlic and blend it,” he said. “You can also brown them really hard, but not 100 percent cooked; saute shallots and garlic; and throw the livers back in with a little balsamic vinegar. Put it all in the food processor with a knob of butter and then run it through a sieve.”

That makes a chicken liver mousse that Henry said can be used as a spread or seared in slices and has a foie gras taste and tinniness.

click to enlarge Katelyn Polly checks a cheese display at Forward Foods. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Katelyn Polly checks a cheese display at Forward Foods.

Make it sing

Forward Foods cheese monger Katelyn Polly said cheese is another ingredient that signifies class without breaking the bank.

A night out at Vast or Ludivine reveals menus of cheese tasting plates with toast points, dried fruits and sauces. Polly said those are easy to replicate at home.

“Cheese is a great place to start, and Forward Foods tends to carry a good selection,” she said. “I usually start people out with our alpine cheeses. Those are very snackable, but you can also use it in a cheese sauce or to make a really nice grilled cheese sandwich, so you can get more use of out it.”

Offering fresh or dried fruits, honey or good mustard gives guests more options and more tastes to the cheese.

Another type of cheese that is often overlooked is Brie, which can be made with sheep or cow’s milk and yields many different flavor notes.

With almost all of Forward Foods’ cheeses, Polly said staff is happy to let customers sample them to make sure they’re happy with them before buying.

She also recommends elevating dishes with olive oil or flavored vinegars. Sometimes those small touches give dinners an unexpected flavor boost that tastes more expensive than it really is. And because you don’t have to use much to get a lot of flavor, those are ingredients that can be used plenty more times before the bottle runs out.

“Buying pre-prepared jars of pasta sauce can get expensive,” she said. “It’s a lot cheaper to make your own with canned tomatoes and put the savings into oil and vinegar that will make the sauce taste better than store-bought.”

click to enlarge Sauerbraten at Viceroy Grill. (Garett Fisbeck)
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Sauerbraten at Viceroy Grill.

Primo planning

And as long as you’re making a good sauce, Polly said, buying a good pasta, like locally made Della Terra Pasta, will change dishes for the better. (It’s a lot more work, but the very cheapest pasta is the kind you make yourself — water, flour and eggs are cheap, but it does take much more time and effort.)

Henry said that, much like oils and vinegars, investing in a better quality ingredient can make a ho-hum meal seem high-class.

“Get to know your farmer,” he said. “When you know the people who raise your food, you’ll know you’re getting a good product.”

Certified Organic foods require an expensive certification process, he said, but plenty of farmers are raising organic foods without labels. When Henry buys chicken, he’s interested in getting a good product that tastes better than mass-produced supermarket chickens.

Those cost more, yes, but the difference is on the plate. And when the whole chicken is purchased, there are lots of ways to wring more meals out of it than just getting boneless, skinless chicken breasts at the store.

“Farm to table, farm to fork, that’s good. But just because you’re going to Whole Foods doesn’t mean it’s the best,” he said. “I prefer sustainability. That’s a bigger thing for me. Supporting our Oklahoma farmers means better food in the long run.”

Henry believes that sometimes, all it takes to make a meal special is one exotic element.

“Octopus is cheap, but you need to know how to cook them,” he said. “Octopus might be the next big thing.”

As daunting as it might seem, think about the splash — pun intended — it’ll make when you serve octopus to your guests. That’s a great meal and a story to tell.

But for those determined to serve beef at their fancy meals, Henry said it’s worth it to buy a vacuum sealer and sous vide immersion cooker.

Sous vide is the ultimate tool for taking an inexpensive cut and making it posh,” he said.

Print headline: Price, check!, Fine dining is possible at almost every price range if you know how to cook. We share tips and tricks from local chefs.

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