Two Oklahoma City chefs are semi-finalists for James Beard Awards, the food service industry’s highest honor. Chef Andrew Black is nominated as Outstanding Chef for his work at Grey Sweater and Black Walnut, and Chef Zach Hutton is nominated for a regional award, Best Chef Southwest, for his work at Scratch Kitchen and Cocktails, Paseo. Both are chef-owners.
Black opened a trio of restaurants in Deep Deuce that includes Grey Sweater and Black Walnut. La Baguette Deep Deuce is being relocated to Yukon, and the space is now private dining for Black Walnut, which also boasts a spacious patio. The upscale casual Grey Sweater has, under Black’s guidance, become the go-to restaurant in the metro for fine dining. The tasting menu restaurant combines ingredients sourced from all over the world into beautiful dishes that are complemented by an excellent cocktail and wine program. The eclectic menu of creative, delicious food includes favorites like lamb ribs with chimichurri, fresh fish, a cast-iron strip and baked chevre.
Black said he was overwhelmed by the news of his nomination. The Jamaican-born chef left home at 15, and has worked in restaurants since, including time in Paris, but the beginnings of his career were tough. He worked in a hotel, juiced thousands of oranges a day, slept on a board in a changing room — anything to make ends meet and advance his career.
“I work hard, but I love what I do,” he said. “This nomination feels like a reward for how hard I work. I’ve been emotional all morning since getting the news. This is really not so much about me as it is an opportunity to use this platform to help more people. I’m happy for our team, too. We’ve been through so much together, and I’m grateful for their hard work.”
Hutton and his wife Kayla Shenold purchased majority ownership of Scratch Paseo in early 2021, and he immediately switched direction and gears on the menu. Over the past year he has built a seasonal menu on which 100 percent of the items are sourced in Oklahoma. His specialty is crafting food that your small-town grandmother would have cooked in western Oklahoma… if your grandma had been a stellar chef.
“I cook the food I grew up with,” Hutton said. “We picked things fresh from the garden, canned and pickled, and relied heavily on locally raised animals. I’m honestly shocked to be nominated; it’s the pipe dream for chefs everywhere, but to get nominated for doing Okie food the right way is very special. It’s also recognition for the hard work that our team puts in every day.”
Hutton now brings that mentality to Scratch, but he’s added a chef’s skills, a brilliant palate and Shenold’s excellent bar program. In practice, this means that when Scratch is out of an ingredient, they’re simply out. No substitutions. Hutton is passionate about educating diners on seasonal food, availability and local sourcing. His first stop every week is the Paseo Farmer’s Market, and he sources outward from there in concentric circles.
The James Beard finalists will be announced March 16 in conjunction with leadership and Humanitarian awards, and the winners will be honored in Chicago on June 13.