Redefining Fine Dining

At the Tulsa Zoo and the Gathering Place, chef Cameron Werry is all about bringing people together.

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Chef Cameron Werry offers a bevy of different dishes at the Tulsa Zoo – from pizzas to melts and even banana cream pie. Photo by Stephanie Phillips

There are two restaurants, two cafés, twelve concession stands and three event centers at the Tulsa Zoo. Each day, Cameron Werry is responsible for every meal served at each of these venues, and there’s thousands of them. Not to mention the event centers … which sometimes host parties for as many as twelve thousand guests. 

“But,” he says, “I’m very hands-on, so on any given day you’ll probably find me somewhere flipping burgers or frying potatoes.” Today, a bright afternoon in spring, you can find him in the tiny kitchen behind the Komodo Canteen, a food stand right near a facade that evokes a thousand year old Southeast Asian ruin, behind which you can see tigers cavort. (Don’t worry, they’re fenced in.)

There Cameron is, dredging chicken tenders in flour mixed with his own spice blend, then throwing it in the bubbling fryer. The chicken is then slathered in your choice of sauces. The Asian blend features savory Korean gochujiang sauce, as well as pickled carrots, onions and cucumbers. Those go on the plate with a mound of potato chips, also made in that tiny kitchen. 

“Ooh, what is that?” asks an excited customer. 

“That’s the good stuff,” Cameron replies. And it is. Not fine dining, you might say. 

“But what is fine dining?” Cameron asks. After all, Cameron and his crew use the finest fresh local ingredients, make things from scratch, and put in time and care. What is fine dining if not that? 

And he should know. 

“My dad owned restaurants, and I’ve been washing dishes and making pizza since the age of seven. I grew up in the hospitality business. I’ve worked in upscale restaurants [Chalkboard], country clubs [Hillcrest] and boutique hotels. I grew up in Banff, but I’m proud to be a Tulsan. I’ve been here 13 years, I’m a family man, father of two. My roots are in California and Canada, but I never found a home ‘til I got to Tulsa.”

Every dining spot at the zoo has a different concept, and you can have a fantastic day trying every one of them. But unless your doctor has told you gorge, you probably don’t exactly need Werry as your tour guide … the food is just too tempting. 

At Rajan’s, you can feast on such delights as the grilled cheese pizza melt sandwich, featuring sourdough bread from Farrell’s Bakery, homemade pizza sauce and a 12 cheese blend including mozzarella, Provolone, Gouda and Parmesan. 

“What’s a trip to the Zoo without funnel fries?” asks Cameron, bringing over a huge plate of sugary goodness. Lion’s Lookout has waffles made to order (with homemade waffle batter). That banana cream pie waffle is irresistible, and just as you’re halfway through, here comes Cameron with a huge pizza. Yes, the main café bakes pizzas. And everything they serve is made where possible from Oklahoma products. Cameron sources from Farrell, Neff Brewery and Scissortail, to name a few.

“And,” he says, “we have a 16-year-old kid I met at a wedding show baking our cookies and brownies.”

Cameron also oversees the food at the Gathering Place. There, the restaurants were closed for two years and his first goal was simply to get them open. The Patio now features sandwiches such as pulled pork with mac and cheese. 

“There’s a huge smoker there,” he says. Now that that’s done, he can improve them. 

“When I first heard about the Gathering Place being built,” says Cameron, “I knew I had to be a part of it. That park is what Tulsa is all about, what food is all about: to bring people together. It is about ceremony and moments. You sit at a table with friends or family, you enjoy the meal. You have conversation, you enjoy the day. That’s what it’s all about.”

Rum Raisin Bread Pudding 

2 lbs. white chocolate

2 qts. cream

4 cups whole milk

2 cups sugar

20 egg yolks

2 cups RumChata 

8 house bread, white, chopped at 1inch

2 cups rum raisins

2 cups candied walnuts

5 whole eggs

In a large bowl, crack and place the eggs, then set aside.

In a pot, add the the cream whole milk, sugar and RumChata; bring to a boil.

After boil, pull off heat, add the chopped chocolate and mix in until fully incorporated.

Add the chocolate mix to the egg mix, then oil a 4-inch hotel pan. 

Add the chopped bread, candied walnuts and rum raisin, and pour the chocolate mixture over the top. 

Plastic wrap and foil, then place in the oven at 325 degrees for 35 minutes.

Remove the the foil and plastic, and bake for 10 more minutes. 

Blackberry Brie Melt

2 slices sourdough bread 

2 oz. cheese blend

1 oz. carmelized onions

3 slices bacon

Blackberry compote

Brie blend

Place two slices of sourdough bread on a sheet.

Add 2 oz. of cheese blend on the top. 

Slice and add brie spread from edge to edge.

Add 1 oz. of caramelized onions.

Add 3 slices of bacon on one piece of bread and the blackberry compote to the other. 

On a butter flattop, place the sandwich and cook until cheese is melted and warm though-out.

Place a grille weight on top for even cooking 

Serve with waffle fries and a pickle spear.