Stroll any evening into Local Bison in downtown Tulsa, through the crowds at the bar, and head for the kitchen. There, you’ll find Nick Andoe, squeezing thyme and truffle mousse atop an enticingly arranged dish of wild mushrooms and handmade ravioli. His movements are deft and graceful – he was born to be a chef.
There is almost a literal truth to this, considering that Nick’s mother’s family is the oldest Mexican family in Tulsa and his father was a certified KCBA judge.
“Sometimes,” Andoe recalls, “you’d see my great-aunts making Mexican molé side by side with my dad’s mother making cobbler. We were all a really close family, a really large family; every meal was special, and the center of our house was the kitchen.”
So it made sense that when Nick needed a job after high school, he went to Monte’s (a bistro steakhouse on Brookside). He started as a busser, but he “wanted to hang with the cool guys in the kitchen,” so he became a line cook. At the same time, he attended cooking school at OSU Okmulgee.
And then he enlisted. You can find a video of a younger, shyer Andoe, dressed in camo and wishing his mom, grandma and great aunts a happy Mother’s Day. It was filmed in an army base located in Tikrit, Iraq, right in the middle of a warzone.
“It was a hot time,” says Andoe, and that’s all he’ll say. Except to state that his five years as a sergeant taught him a lot about how to be a good chef.
“You learn to be part of a team,” he says. “You’re only as good as your weakest link, so if you’re executive chef and the dishwasher needs help, you run and help him.”
Fast forward ten years and Andoe’s the executive chef at a restaurant in San Francisco. Over a thousand miles away, a bartender named Tony Galvez is working hard in Tulsa. He’s kind, and so industrious that every bar patron from ten years ago remembers him fondly. But he wants more. Finally, he saves enough to open his own restaurant: Local Bison. He has big dreams, and he lures Andoe back to Tulsa.
Andoe’s menu has so many fantastic choices. First, the candied pork belly. It takes almost 24 hours to make.
“First we give it a dry rub, then we hard sear it,” says Andoe. “Then we confit it for six hours. It cools and sets for 12 hours, and just before we serve it, we sear it, coat it in brown sugar, and hit it with a blowtorch like creme brulee. It’s barbecue meets French umami.”
Many dishes pay homage to his family. Chicken is served with a peanut butter molé sauce, a familial recipe. “The traditional molé is flavored with chocolate,” he explains, “but we were poor and peanut butter was cheaper.”
And the wildly popular deviled eggs are his grandmother’s recipe … though, probably, his grandmother didn’t use ras el hanout. That unexpected Moroccan spice blend excites even the most jaded palates.
Working in San Francisco thrilled Nick every day. But Tulsa? It thrills him even more.
“The food scene in Tulsa is going to explode,” he enthuses. “And we’ll be part of it. Mary Sorenson just joined me as my sous chef. She was executive chef for the Seattle Mariners! And she came back to me in Tulsa.
Tony has bought the storefronts on either side of us. One will be Mediterranean pizza casual, the other will be a grab and go, with great vegan options, as well as house-smoked meats. And the kitchen! It’s so tiny and we’ll double it, at least. It will be like… I’ve been driving a Ferrari round and round a parking lot and suddenly, I’m on the open highway, full throttle and pushing the limit.”