Michael Wilson was born to be a chef. This was apparent early.
“As soon as I got tall enough to see above the counter,” he recalls, “I started cooking. My grandfather taught me to make gravy, my grandma taught me biscuits, the whole family jumped in and taught me. When I was seven, I made an entire dinner for them. I’ve always known I wanted to be a chef.”
Wilson was born and raised in Fayetteville, Ark., and as soon as it was legal, he got a job at Braum’s. Starting at 16, he worked every position from grill to cashier. He never went to cooking school, though he did take one or two classes. And it’s a good thing he did, because he met his wife, also a chef, at one of them.
He did get a degree in restaurant management from the University of Arkansas, and later, also started work at an elegant local restaurant, Ella’s Table. He needed a job and signed on as a dishwasher. The man who hired him? Bill Lyle – now Summit Club’s executive chef.
Back then, Ella’s was, Wilson recalls, “as much fine dining as northwest Arkansas could handle. It was a varied menu, so I was exposed to many techniques and cultures.” (The menu is still quite varied. Their current offerings include dishes like pan-seared duck with cherry gastrique.) There, he learned a lot.
“Bill’s a great teacher,” Wilson says, “though he’s a total perfectionist. I worked with many good, talented folks who were willing to teach a very young chef, and that’s a rare thing.”
Lyle went on to be the chef at Eleven, the luxurious restaurant inside Crystal Bridges Museum. Wilson then took his place as executive chef at Ella’s.
Later on, around 2017, he and his wife started a food truck serving down home Southern cuisine. South in Your Mouth they called it. Lyle, by then, had become executive chef at the Summit Club.
“I visited him in Tulsa and he offered me a job,” he says. “I shut down the food truck and never looked back.”
He is currently sous-chef, the No. 2 job.
And what’s it like, working at the Summit Club?
“It’s incredible!” Wilson says with enthusiasm. “It’s like traveling the world every day. We have flavors on the menu from every corner of the world. Some of the dishes are international in cooking technique, some because of ingredients, and sometimes the dishes themselves are from other lands. And not only that, but we have people from Peru, Taiwan, Guatemala and more. Its an eclectic group of people and I learn so much from them.”
Every day at Summit Club allows Wilson to stretch his culinary muscles.
“I’ve done a lot of jobs, and lately I’m in charge of dry-aging steaks in house,” he says. “I also invent a lot of dishes, quite a bit of the regular dinner menu and a lot of specials. I try never to do the same special twice.”
And what does he love most?
“I’ve been here five years last week and there’s never a dull moment,” he says. “You can never get bored here. I’ve always wanted to be a chef and it’s so cool to achieve my childhood dreams.”
French-Cut Red Deer Chops, Juniper Rub, Fall Harvest Hash, Crispy Kale, Haricot Verts, Pomegranate Gastrique
1 Cup Kosher Salt
½ Cup Course Ground Black Pepper
½ Cup Juniper Berries, ground
Mix ingredients together
Generously sprinkle on the Venison Chops
Grill the Venison to your preferred doneness. Chef Recommendation: Medium Rare
4 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Water
4 Sprigs Thyme
1 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Bottle Pomegranate Juice; Reduced to thick syrup, not too far or it will turn into candy
Combine Sugar, Water and Thyme in a heavy bottom stainless saucepan.
Bring to a simmer. Gently stir once to combine. Scrape down sides with rubber spatula. Reduce to low heat.
Very gently simmer, without stirring, until light caramel forms.
Once the sugar mixture has begun to turn to a light caramel color and the sugar begins to crystalize, carefully stir in vinegar. Be careful to not burn yourself with steam or spattering sugar.
Stir to dissolve the sugar. Once sugar has dissolved, strain out the thyme and combine with the reduced Pomegranate juice.
Cool and store in an airtight container.
1 Head of Kale
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Sea Salt; to taste
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Remove the ribs from the kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Lay on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil and salt. Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes.
1 Acorn Squash- cut into thin rings, remove any seeds
1 Red Bell Pepper, large dice
½ Cup Pearl Onions, smoked and caramelized
½ Pound Cremini Mushrooms, Halved
1 Pounds Russet Potatoes, Large Dice
2 Tablespoon Local Honey
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Sprig of Rosemary, minced
Drizzle oil onto the Acorn Squash and season with Salt and Pepper.
Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Roast in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, flip over halfway through.
Drizzle oil onto the Potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes, or until crispy.
Heat a large cast iron pan until very hot. Add the mushrooms, cut side down. Let the mushroom sear without stirring until fragrant and brown.
Add the Red Bell Pepper and Caramelized Pearl onion to the pan. Sautee for 2 minutes on high heat.
Turn the heat down to low, add the roasted potatoes. Stir in the Honey, Vinegar, and Rosemary. Season with Salt and pepper.
1 lb. haricots verts or regular green beans, trimmed
1 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Splash of white wine (Optional)
½ Lemon; juiced
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and immediately transfer to a bowl of salted ice water to stop the cooking. When the beans are cool, drain and set aside.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the 1 Tbs. olive oil. Add the shallots and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots begin to brown, about 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are caramelized, about 6 minutes more. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tsp. of the olive oil. Add the green beans, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, sautee for about a minute, do not brown. Add the shallots, the wine, and lemon juice. Cook for an additional minute. Season with salt and pepper
Arrange the Acorn Squash overlapping on the plate. Fill with the remaining hash ingredients, top with Crispy Kale sticking out the top.
Place Haricot Verts nestled against the Hash
After the Venison has rested for at least a minute, slice and serve leaning up against the Haricot Verts.
Drizzle the Gastrique around the plate or pour the sauce under the Venison.