Intense, clean-cut and with movie-star charisma, Trevor Tack laughs hard and works harder. He grew up in Chickasha, the child of supportive, hard-working parents (a lawyer from Michigan, a schoolteacher from Chickasha) who had little time for gourmet food. He had more than a passing acquaintance with Hamburger Helper.
It’s a wonder he became a chef at all – but, after arriving at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater with no strong career inclinations, the chef life slowly drew him in. He was thrilled by the magic of it; he liked the honesty of it. If you cook a bad dish, there’s no fooling people, but you get to start fresh the next day. He changed his major from business to hospitality.
His first job was at the Chalkboard in Tulsa. He worked for chef Paul Caplinger, and he still admires the man. He learned a lot about food there, but the most important thing Caplinger taught him wasn’t about cuisine at all.
“He taught me you didn’t have to lead by using fear,” Tack explains. “Back then, it was the usual tactic. The chef would deliberately make people afraid of him. Paul taught me that when you work for someone who truly cares about you, you do your best to succeed.”
That lesson remained at the forefront of Tack’s mind throughout his career. And what a varied, exciting career it’s been. He has either worked at, designed, opened, or led almost every fine dining restaurant you can think of in the area. Chalkboard, SoChey, Dalesandro’s, Stonehorse, Main Street Tavern, Bodean (“I had fun there,” he says), R Bar (“My weekly Sunday brunch was a party that revolved around food, not mimosas,” he says), Bull in the Alley, Fassler Hall, Dilly Diner (“My toughest opening ever; we opened in the middle of the Tulsa Tough bike marathon and were packed from seven in the morning till midnight,” he says), executive chef for McNellie’s Group and Watershed Hospitality Group, and the Hemingway. Now, just when Tack thought he’d finally take a short break, he’s found a home at Lowood.
“Noah Bush [owner of Lowood] told me they needed a chef and asked me to step in for a few weeks,” he says. “I came, and I fell in love with the place.”
Get Tack talking about the dishes he’s planning for Lowood and you’ll feel his contagious enthusiasm.
“We’ll hard-char broccolini, serve it with a sauce inspired by Andalucian ajoblanco soup. What you’ll taste? Freshness, char, surprise, creaminess, satisfaction,” he says. “That’s what I want the whole menu to feel like. I like surprises, I like to under-promise and over-deliver – like my Chilean sea bass in consomme. It comes to the table, it looks quite ordinary. But what you taste is anything but. It’s rich, light, satisfying, bright, acidic, with a fatty note, too.”
On my first visit to Lowood after Tack joined the team, I sat at the counter overlooking the cooking area, and the first thing I noticed was the laughter. Tack runs a happy kitchen – a place where the chefs can enjoy themselves as they are turning out works of art.
“Oh, I love that!” Tack says when I share the thought with him. “We enjoy each other’s company, and our food is born from pride and a desire to do it right. I want my kitchen staff to grow. I like to mentor, and I like to learn from them. It’s a hard, hard job we do, working all day with sharp objects and fire. I love the people who work in kitchens; they are my people.”