In most states, cooking and making dinner is a meal that follows a foundation. Whether it’s sentiment, tradition, survival, a hobby or creativity cooking is something which brings friends and families together.
In Oklahoma City, cooking has stopped becoming the stereotype that’s left only to parents and grandparents or more commonly chefs, cooks, bakers, and food lovers.
According to the United States of Department of Labor, about 1030 individuals specialize as a chef, cook or caterer in Oklahoma.
With multiple backgrounds of experience, each have one thing in common, a love for food.
For Justin McAroy it’s his underlying passion.
McAroy focuses on the art of cooking with smokers and creating delectable barbeque. As of 2018, he created his own personal business known as The MeatyOkie Smoking Co.
“The thing that led me [into diving] into the world of smoked foods was all the barbeque and smoked foods that I’ve had,” he said. “I’ve wanted more and I’ve wanted better.”
McAroy said there are a lot of restaurants that sell meats and barbeque and it is often lacking in flavor and tenderness.
“That’s when I took it upon myself to get my first smoker. I now own three smokers.”
McAroy is fond of experimenting with brines, rubs and different cuts of meats, ribs, sauces, types of wood and following the temperature of the smoker.
“There are so many variables,” he said.
He does a comparison in his choices starting in size, marbling, or color. When the moment arises, and its available, he also looks at organic options.
While McAroy has worked hard to establish his business, others enjoy the luxury of cooking at home.
Working mom Rebecca Neeman feels in her element while preparing a dinner for her family.
“I’m completely in my realm,” she said.
Neeman always had a love for cooking ever since she was a little girl.
“I remember helping my grandmother cook, and my mom,” she said. “Cooking was a family event for all the ladies in the house. We did it together.”
While cooking, Neeman looks back and thinks, “what would her grandmother have added to this?”
“Many of the things she cooked, I still do today by memory since she never wrote down any recipes,” she said.
While grocery shopping, Neeman enjoys quality in the food she brings home and shops organically when she can.
“If I were totally made of money, I would use organic ingredients all the time,” she said.
“I use them sometimes, when I can,” she said. “I know with fruits and vegetables, I can taste the difference. Organic fruits are sweeter and vegetables taste brighter.”
According to United States Department of Agriculture, a survey showed organic farms increased from 23 in 2015 to 34 in 2016 and acres rose from 6,082 to 18,008.
As the survey continued, 29 farms had crop sales, five livestock and-or poultry sales and four livestock and-or poultry products sales, and 13 growers harvested 7,032 acres of field crops with sales of $2,030,942.
Throughout the city more organic grocery stores have become available. Just two years ago, Oklahoma welcomed its seventh Natural Grocers grocery store, which holds organic, vegetarian, gluten free and non-genetically modified options.
As Oklahoma continues to grow more organic options each year, others are found using these ingredients in a ‘sweeter’ way.
Pastry Chef, Caleb Shepherd creates artistic desserts for local restaurant Benvenuti’s Ristorante located in Norman.
With a creative eye, Shepherd has always felt inclined to the arts since high school.
“ [In high school] my thing was 3D art,” he said. “I decided to combine that with my love of food, and pastry. Arts were a good place to flourish in that regard; I could make 3D art out of sugar, and that’s really what inspired me to become a chef.”
Shepherd said he posted a picture of a chocolate sculpture he created, “That piece really sums up my love of my profession.”
What Shepherd said he loves the most is serving up what he’s made.
“I love feeding people, and seeing that first reaction when they take a bite really makes me happy. Especially with sweets.”
Shepherd spends his time working on different creations. Cake orders, desserts, and creating new recipes.
“I really enjoy taking an order on paper and making it into a reality,” he said. “The most challenging yet gratifying thing about being a chef is making a brand new recipe.”
He said to enter into new territory, and learn, while making mistakes and stumbling is “lovely in its own rite.”
“Then at the end, you have a new creation to share with others,” Shepherd said. “How I feel while baking is how any artist feels while in their medium. It’s a strange blend of autopilot, serenity, and resolute hope that everything will come out the way it’s supposed to.”
Without even knowing, families have artists hiding in their own kitchen. It is a need to create, nourish, and satisfy while bringing others together.
In the end, it all started with a simple recipe.