The catalyst of sharing warmth and sustenance, and the centerpiece around which humans have connected with one another for hundreds of thousands of years, fire, speaks hypnotically to the depths of us. The glowing pulse of embers and dancing flames, the flickering light, all the smells, sights, and sounds saturating our senses – few things draw us in like the heartbeat of a hearth.
Feeding the hungry half-moon mouth at the focal point of the room, they were stoking the wood oven as I walked in to Oven & Tap out of the December chill. A moth to the flame, I ventured right up to the open kitchen pass to soak up some of the radiant heat. Chefs Luke Wetzel and Mollie Mullis welcome me, and as I unbundled, they excitedly revealed what they were offering up for our first-ever Chefs Share.
Leading with one of her favorite effortless appetizers, Chef Mollie reveals a dip that regularly makes it into her holiday spread. “In my family we make egg nog and bake cookies every Christmas Eve. I’m 28, but you better believe I’m still decorating cookies for Santa!” She tells me she loves keeping those soul-nourishing traditions alive, but also loves sliding in her Whipped Feta Dip that goes incredibly well with a much-needed influx of veggies around the holidays.
Her big tip on getting great color on your roasted vegetables at home?
“Be bold!” she says. “Don’t be afraid to crank up that oven, cook them on super high heat and just keep a watchful eye.”
Next Chef Luke Wetzel gives up a recipe traditionally kept top secret or “in the family.” He tells me, “Here in Arkansas collard greens remain bountiful all winter. We love embracing Southern food traditions here and working on those recipes to take them to the next level. I think the details of our recipe makes them some of the best, so I’m happy to share it. We’re finding as many applications for braised greens as possible right now which turns out to be fairly easy – they are so versatile and delicious.”
As he sits the steaming clay pot of braised deliciousness in front of me, I notice the detail of crispy bacon right away. “It’s the best way to introduce texture here, and I feel it finishes them in a way that makes them their own dish – not just your average side.” He goes on to give us some tips, “When selecting your greens make sure they aren’t wilted or blemished. They should be thick and firm and basically look like they’ll need to be cooked for three hours.”
Two more clay pots filled with goodies hot from the oven arrive at the table. Chef Luke offers, “I wanted to show the versatility here. Once you make them, the braised greens and the pot liquor work incredibly well as components in other dishes. We’ve done a Greens Gumbo – our gumbo base consists of holy trinity, dark roux, and a dollop of greens with some pot liquor dragged along. I think anyone could live on gumbo base, rice and greens and be a very happy person, I guarantee, but we’ve also added some roasted gulf shrimp, Bansley’s Berkshire Ridge Farm’s delicious maple-cured ham, as well as some Arkansas jasmine rice. It’s super simple, but you’ll find the combination goes really well together.”
He shifts to the third dish, “Next, brunch is one of our favorite things here – so we’ve included this Brunch Braised Greens dish also. We took our collards and added a bit of cream, baked them in the oven until thickened a bit, and then we topped them with a sunny egg, Grana Padano cheese and toasted bread crumb. There’s Calabrian chili on top there for a little bit of heat.”
You’ll find chefs are often open to sharing their methods for making things easier for you in the kitchen, and making things exceptional. Here at Oven & Tap, people share pizzas, sip local brew, and connect over delicious fresh food all around the restaurant’s glowing heart every day. Thanks to Chefs Luke & Mollie, now you can create a little bit of that magic at home.