One afternoon in early June 2019, Wyatt Rogers’ plane landed in Tulsa. He didn’t go to his newly rented apartment, nor did he stop anywhere to drop off his bags. Instead, he drove straight to Brookside, walked into Oren Restaurant, found Chef Matt Amberg and talked himself into a job.
“I want to be around people better than me,” explains Wyatt. “It’s humbling; it can be painful, but that’s how you learn. And in my opinion, Matt’s the best chef around.”
Back then, Oren had (and still has) quite a few regular diners who came to see what new, incredible dishes would spring from Amberg’s seemingly effortless and inexhaustible talent. It was our special delight back then to watch Wyatt Rogers’ progress.
“When I first started out, I was gung-ho to create my own dishes,” says Rogers. “But each time I did, Matt would ask, ‘How will this dish fit in with Oren? Does it follow Oren’s direction?’ It took many tries, but I learned: if it’s not fully thought out, it doesn’t have a place at Oren.
“I’ve learned to keep things simple. Saint-Exupery said it best: ‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’”
We’ve begun the story in the middle, so let’s step back about eight years. Wyatt, who grew up in Okmulgee, is a history major at OSU in Stillwater. To earn his tuition, he works 60 hours a week at a local restaurant.
“I found myself being more proud of my eight-dollar-an-hour work at the restaurant than I was of my future college degree,” he says.
Rogers decided to follow his heart to OSUIT Culinary Arts. While there, he searched online for “best restaurant in Tulsa,” and Google directed him to the Polo Grill. He got a job there, shuttling between OSUIT classes and cooking at Polo. Even in those early years, his talent was evident, and he ended up as their executive chef.
“It’s easy to coast when you’re at the top,” says Rogers. “I learn more when I’m lower down in the hierarchy.”
So he got an internship at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Dublin. After a short sojourn there, he moved to New York and worked at NoMad Restaurant. And in those difficult years away from Tulsa, working in the most challenging places he could find, Rogers also learned what not to do.
“There’s a lot of toxic behavior in some of those old-style kitchens,” he says. “Lots of damaging abuse. I want to treat my cooks with the same respect that I would like to be treated, which is what Matt has always done.”
One year ago, Wyatt was promoted to chef de cuisine at Oren, meaning that the chef who sought out mentors is now a leader himself.
“More times than I care to remember, I wake up at 5:30 in the morning and am overwhelmed by all I have to do,” he says. “The only way I can do it is if I can trust every cook on my team. I earn their trust first, so they will trust and follow my advice. We will help each other learn more.
“And on some days, there’s a first-time customer, and they taste the food and they’re just shocked it’s so good. Their face lights up. I want our customers to check their problems at the door along with their coats and feel that pleasure. There’s no bigger joy for me than seeing their pleasure. It’s the nicest way I know to care for people.”