James Beard finalist Jeff Chanchaleune keeps two tiny tools in his apron, using them for virtually everything as he cooks big flavors at Ma Der Lao Kitchen.
Jeff Chanchaleune — 2023 James Beard finalist, 2020 semifinalist and chef and owner of Ma Der Lao Kitchen — uses small offset spatulas and tweezers to make precise, intricate placements when plating food, to test dishes, flip food or just about anything else imaginable while preparing his nationally recognized cuisine.
“These are probably the most versatile,” he said. “I use this to flip. Or I use the spatula to scrap around the edge or kind of like a spoon if I’m tasting something. I can even use it to pop open lids.”
Chanchaleune is focused on bringing authentic Lao cuisine to Oklahoma City, something that quickly grabbed the attention of the food industry around the nation.
Ma Der made Bon Appetit‘s 50 Best New Restaurants in America and The New York Times Restaurant List, 50 Best in America, both in 2022. And in 2023, he became a James Beard finalist.
The accolades were gratifying for this second generation Asian American who stayed true to serving customers authentic Lao dishes his mother made for him growing up. But the accolades also translated into increased business.
“Overnight, we went from losing money to finally profiting,” he said. “I would probably say at least 60% of our clientele are still new.”
And not only is Chanchaleune introducing a new cuisine to Oklahoma City, he’s helping preserve and propel Lao culture.
“People are coming here and it reminds them of their home and their family when they were growing up,” he said. “Above everything else, that is the most gratifying part of all of this.”
And speaking of family, the location of Ma Der is directly in front of where his parents first lived after they were married. The old duplex is now a parking lot, and Ma Der will turn 2 years old this September.
“I want to create something meaningful,” he said. “I want to help grow the city. You know, people always travel, and what do they do? They eat. And that can be so diverse.”