Sous Chef, Hard Rock Casino Tulsa
• T: @ChefJasonBarr
Food and rock go hand in hand. You would be hard-pressed to find a kitchen that did not have music blasting in order to help the staff power through a dinner service. For this edition of “Chef Life” we were able to track down Chef Jason Barr, who just so happens to work at a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is known for not only its live concerts, but fine dining as well. So grab a knife and fork and dig into this hearty feature about what it’s like cooking for Michael Rooker (aka Yondu and Merle Dixon), how to roll with the gastronomical punches, and why you should strive to always cook like a grandma.
TrunkSpace: When and why did you start cooking and who has been the biggest influence in your life with regards to your culinary journey?
Chef Barr: Three years old! True story. My grandma found me one morning standing on a bar stool getting ready to fix eggs and bacon for breakfast. I had a lot of heroes growing up watching Food Network. Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, the Two Fat Ladies. I used to watch shows about cooking food and then try to mimic it when I was young. My mother was a good inspiration to get me to cook professionally. She got me my first Betty Crocker cook book when I graduated high school and she said, “Learn to cook and you’ll never eat alone.” I still have that book in my office.
TrunkSpace: What style of cuisine do you enjoy creating the most and why? And what would you consider your signature dish?
Chef Barr: I always aspire to be a great saucier. I have an infatuation with sauces. When it comes to preparing full meals, I’d have to say Latin or Italian cuisine. We eat a lot of tacos at my house. Working in a busy kitchen, I learned that you can put almost anything on a tortilla. My signature dish would have to be chicken alfredo. I make an alfredo sauce that is so velvety smooth it will make your heart flutter.
TrunkSpace: It’s been said that food is the gateway into a culture, that it identifies a history, family and a region. What do you feel your food says about your culture and history?
Chef Barr: Coming from Oklahoma, it’s important to learn how to “cook like grandma.” The easiest way to make someone happy is through their stomach. That’s why I do what I do, I like making people happy. When I was a kid we used to have family cookouts every Sunday, then we would gather around the table and play cards. Everyone loves to eat good food. I have a saying in my home that goes like this…
“The three requirements for the best meals are – good food, good drink, good company.”
TrunkSpace: Every cook and/or chef has a really bad service, and it haunts them, but they grow and learn from it. Do you have a worst service memory that keeps you up at night? And how did it change you as a chef?
Chef Barr: Oh man, Tuesdays… Each week the Hard Rock Buffet has a promo that is called “Two for Tuesdays” – it’s a buy one/get one deal we do every week. We have perfected it after many failures, but imagine the most brutally busy flow of business for five hours straight, every week. That’s my Tuesdays. I have a motto I tell my guys. “We know it’s going to suck, but it’s our job to make it suck less.”
Teaching people how to work smarter, not harder is what I’m good at.
TrunkSpace: On the flipside of that, do you have a particular memory of your best service or a moment in your career that really stood out and has stuck with you?
Chef Barr: 2016, the week before Valentine’s Day, the steakhouse chef had to go out on surgery, so it was MY show. I literally had less than a week to finish writing the Valentine’s Day menu, get the food ordered, prepped and executed flawlessly. Not to mention training everyone how to do it. This same week we also had a special wine dinner for a VIP event. So, I had to do a menu of amuse-bouche style items to pair with four different types of wines we were featuring to a large group of people. Luckily, I kept a level head and did not panic. I had been working in fine dining for three years at this point so I at least kind of knew what I was doing. I do remember at the end of that week I felt a HUGE sense of pride. Valentine’s, flawless. Wine dinner and tasting, flawless. AND we (me and my team) received a huge applause from the people that attended the event. That was the first time as a chef I had that happen.
TrunkSpace: Do you have a set path in mind for your career and where it’s going? Where do you see yourself 10 years down the road?
Chef Barr: Honestly? Not really. I went to business school, got an IT degree and I’ve always thought of myself as a teacher or scientist. I became a chef because I have always been drawn to the kitchen, sort of a “I was made for this” calling. I’d really love to just teach people how to cook and educate about “edible alchemy.” Ten years down the road I can see myself as a research chef. I love how “Culinology” blends science and art together, that is so me.
TrunkSpace: With the advancement of technology in the past years, food has also advanced in many ways. Has it changed the way you cook at all?
Chef Barr: Most of the chefs I have worked for exercised classic ways of cooking. One chef in particular said his style of cooking was based on simplicity. He learned from traveling around the world, so I trusted him. He wanted to be able to cook a dish using nothing but ingredients that the “man that lived in a hut in the middle of nowhere” would have access to. A ton of dishes we cooked together started with four simple ingredients; onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I love new technology and innovation, but old habits are so hard to break.
TrunkSpace: Molecular gastronomy… is it mad science or mad tasty? Do you feel it has a place in the culinary scene as entire dinner courses, or should it be used more in balance to further enhance traditional dishes?
Chef Barr: I love molecular gastronomy! I’ve always thought of kitchens as my laboratories and love how this “mad science” has taken off. Consumers are always looking for the newest, coolest, most exciting experience and some of the innovation I have seen is amazing. Messing with people’s senses is one thing I love to do. One time we messed up making some chocolate mousse, and it looked a lot like ice cream. So, to joke around with the servers, we scooped it up like ice cream and put it in a serving dish and let it sit under the heat lamp. We called it “never melting ice cream.” Each time some of the servers would walk by the pass and look up at it they would have kind of a WTF look on their faces after a few trips.
TrunkSpace: Working at the Hard Rock, you must have had the chance to cook for some of the celebrities that have come through on tour. Is that nerve racking or intimidating? And do you have a favorite experience cooking for any of those celebs?
Chef Barr: It can be intimidating when you first start out – a lot of celebs want VERY specific food to eat. Most of them are easy going though. My favorite celeb would have to be Michael Rooker. He and his entourage came in for Wizard World Comic Con one year and came up to the steakhouse to eat a few times. They were some of the nicest people I had ever talked to and were very happy with each meal, and they let me know it! I must admit the first few times it made me nervous, but you just have to keep in mind that this is what you do every day.
TrunkSpace: If someone offered you a blank check to open your own restaurant, whether that would be a brick and mortar, food truck or gastropub, what would your vision be? Where would it be located and what type of food would you focus on?
Chef Barr: None of the above. (Well, maybe a food truck.) I would like to do a cooking show. Online like a YouTube channel, or maybe network eventually. I love to cook, but I’d really like to have more time for my daughters. I’m thinking along the lines of cooking/comedy show with dance breaks in between waiting periods.