Chef Chris McKenna takes the helm at Packard’s New American Kitchen. 

click to enlarge Chris McKenna - Photo by Mark Hancock - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • Chris McKenna Photo by Mark Hancock

Chef Chris McKenna takes the helm at Packard’s New American Kitchen.

There have been some changes at Packard’s New American Kitchen, 201 NW 10th St., and Chris McKenna couldn’t be more excited. He is officially the restaurant’s new executive chef. Last week, factors came together just so. His girlfriend was offered a job in Oklahoma City. The executive chef at Packard’s also had moved on rather abruptly, leaving the door wide open for McKenna to lead the restaurant into its second year. Packard’s celebrated its one-year anniversary in March. McKenna started as a line cook at Packard’s in November of 2013. “I loved the vibe of the restaurant. From the moment I walked in, I could see there was tremendous potential,” McKenna said. But he is not out to make drastic changes to Packard’s way of doing things. “The new spring menu that Mitchell [Dunzy, former executive chef ] rolled out a few weeks ago, we’re actually revising that. It’ll be version 2.0,” McKenna said. The emphasis will remain on a seasonal menu and sourcing local when he can. “The whole thing about staying seasonal, to me, is that it’s a lot easier and more affordable to source products [with the seasons], and I just feel it’s better quality,” he said. McKenna said that while not everything on the menu is locally sourced, a lot of it is. Nothing about that will change. The restaurant sources its beef and chicken from local farms and its produce through local suppliers. “That doesn’t mean the whole menu is local, but I want to keep everything as local as possible,” he said. One change will be more creole and Cajun items on the menu. “I lived in and ran a restaurant in Louisiana. That’s a favorite with me,” he said. He also mentioned traditional Southern food as a favorite. McKenna has trained in kitchens but not in a culinary school. He started as a front-of-house manager at The County Line BBQ, the legendary barbecue joint on NE 63rd Street that closed its doors in 2010. “I was drawn to the kitchen and started working as the kitchen manager on weekends,” he said. He worked his way up to executive chef. “Having the ability to create my own menu items for the first time was the beginning of the journey I’m on now,” he said. He has worked alongside some of Oklahoma City’s best and never missed an opportunity to learn. He cites chefs Brian McGrew and Jonathan Krell at Stella Modern Italian Cuisine, 1201 N. Walker Ave., as influences who shaped both his culinary knowledge and technique. He spent three years there as sous chef (assistant to the executive chef ). “When I hear New American, I think about how America has become such a melting pot with so many nationalities and cuisines,” he said. He stressed that it’s not going to be too wild. This isn’t his new test kitchen for gastronomy experiments. “No one is going to look at it and think, ‘I don’t even know what that is,’” he said. “This is going to be comforting and familiar. I like to make simple, flavorful grub.”

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