Chef Ben Alexander brings Korean cuisine to Tulsa’s newest tasting room
Ben Alexander, vice president of culinary operations for McNellie’s Group
OK Distilling has spirited away local palates with straightforward yet pristine blends of vodka, whiskey, rum, and artisan coffee liqueur. Now they have opened their tasting room, where they are pushing the envelope of alcohol production with custom concoctions like taco daiquiris and kimchi moonshine.
OK Distilling is located in the heart of what has become Tulsa’s booming brewery district, but you won’t find a centrifuge or a rotavap—equipment rarely seen outside of a laboratory—in the other tasting rooms.
Hunter Stone Gambill, distiller and cider maker at OK Distilling and Local Cider, has put together an expert team of mad scientists/star-tenders who are creating an inimitable tasting experience.
“Our tasting room is different from a traditional tasting room,” said Gambill. “It includes our distributed spirits, but we also integrate a ton of custom distillations that we only make for the tasting room.”
Gambill is an alchemic dynamo, but he is informed by his time spent in culinary school and traveling the world. One of the main objectives of the tasting room is to not only showcase their line of spirits, but to form bonds with other like-minded culinary phenoms.
When Gambill began imagining OK Distilling’s first chef dinner, he was leaning toward Korean, a cuisine he experienced during his travels. So, he reached out to Chef Ben Alexander, who is known for adding bit of Asian flair to the dishes he creates for the McNellie’s Group restaurants.
“I didn’t even know Ben, but other than trying to find a Korean mom, I knew he was the best person to do a Korean dinner,” said Gambill. “I reached out and talked to him about some ridiculous things we are doing. He took a tour, we talked, and he was on board.”
Chef Alexander, now the VP of culinary operations for McNellie’s Group, doesn’t spend as much time in a kitchen as he once did. And he certainly hasn’t gotten many opportunities to throw down on some Korean fare.
“I’m definitely going to have some fun with this. We are going to class up Spam as much as we can,” Alexander said. “We are making our own banchan [small Korean side dishes], including kimchi. I just started the batch downstairs, so the office smells like wet farts right now.”
When Alexander toured the distillery, he got to see how the rotavap worked. A rotavap is a type of pressurized still that can distill at a lower temperature, which means that flavors and aromatics of infused ingredients remain intact.
“They rotate this beaker, then the distillate goes up and captures the essence of whatever that flavor is. It’s real science shit,” said Alexander. “One of the best ones I had was the habanero infusion. You drink it and you get the fruitiness of the habanero, and you’re waiting for the spice to hit, but it never does.”
Alexander will be incorporating customized distillations in his six-course Korean Shotgun Dinner.
“For the Korean tartare, I’m going to use a wasabi distillate and turn it into a foam, so it encapsulates everything. Should be some real funky flavors,” said Alexander.
The galbi shortribs are more of a classic preparation, but the Spam course is getting some serious bling.
“I’m going to pan-sear the chili-crusted Spam and then throw some foie gras on top,” said Alexander. “I can’t wait to take the trashiest food and put something fancy on it.”
Each course will have a specific drink pairing, like a kimchi Bloody Mary, a house-made soju (a Korean rice liquor), or a specially-produced cider from OK Distilling’s sister operation, Local Cidery.
“I bought a bunch of Asian pears, blended them with an apple base, and added ginger and green tea,” said Gambill. “We work with a restorative tea farm in China, so it is a direct source and we know exactly where it is coming from.”
The inaugural chef dinner at OK Distilling featuring Chef Ben Alexander will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9. Tickets are $80 for six courses with alcoholic pairings. Visit OK Distilling’s Facebook page to find the event link to purchase tickets.
“We will routinely have guest chefs out and already have a number of chefs both locally and in Oklahoma City who want to get involved,” said Gambill. “For us, we see our space as a collaborative space and opportunity for doing positive things amongst other creatives. We are excited to have them in our space to push us to the next level.”
The OK Distilling tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tours are $10 each and come with a choice of two complimentary tastings or one cocktail. Though the updated liquor laws still do not allow the sale of the distillery’s products onsite, their spirits can be purchased at liquor stores or many local restaurants and bars.