Chef comes back home to work
Cherokee Nation Entertainment Executive Chef Don McClellan stands inside the kitchen area of the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs, Okla. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Don McClellan prepares a dish at the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Casino. He recently returned to Oklahoma from Albuquerque, N.M., to work as Cherokee Nation Entertainment's executive chef. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
WEST SILOAM SPRINGS, Okla. – Chef Don McClellan is glad to be back in Oklahoma and doing what he loves.
The opportunity to move from Albuquerque, N.M., to take a job as Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s executive chef came after he competed in an Iron Chef-style competition in July in Washington, D.C.
The Cherokee Nation citizen lost the competition by a small margin. However, CNE’s food and beverage director contacted McClellan regarding him working for CNE after an article about the competition appeared in the Cherokee Phoenix.
“CNE, mainly Paul Jarrell, read the article in the paper and hunted me down in Albuquerque and said, ‘is there anyway we can bring you back here and have you work for the tribe?’ I said ‘it’s an opportunity we need to look at, and lo and behold I’m here,” he said.
McClellan, 35, has been a professional chef for 18 years. Most of his training in culinary school was in traditional French and northern Italian cuisines, which are his specialties. He most recently worked as a chef for a retirement community in Albuquerque before joining CNE in October.
His current duties are to better understand the corporate culture he’s working in and provide leadership for the two restaurants at the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Casino. He expects to be working at the West Siloam Springs property for three to six months before transferring to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tulsa.
“The same thought process will go into the Hard Rock, and I will be training there. And then my ultimate responsibilities will be food costs, menu planning and the overall oversight of the outlining properties, including Ramona, Roland, Sallisaw, Tahlequah, Will Rogers Downs and Fort Gibson,” he said.
As for dishes he wants to create, he said looking at local food products is the best option. He believes using fresh local produce and meat helps sustain local economies and businesses. So he wants to seek out local farms and farmers markets.
He plans to showcase his cooking styles to see what the patrons of the West Siloam Springs Cherokee Casino prefer.
“We’ll get some customer feedback. If it works, then we’ll implement it on the menu, but absolutely having an opportunity to use local products is a first and foremost goal,” he said.
He said his experience at West Siloam Springs has been great because of all the support he’s received from the staff.
“I love it. It’s been a great experience so far. I’ve been very well received at the Siloam property,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to do the (principal) chief’s inauguration, which was a great experience for my staff from here to go to Tahlequah to work with the staff from the Hard Rock. We had staff from Roland. We had staff from Sallisaw. So being able to intermingle staff and have them all have conversations was a wonderful thing.”
He said everyone in the food and beverage department at Hard Rock have helped him settle into his job. He will need that support when he transitions from West Siloam Springs with its two restaurants to the Hard Rock Casino, which has four restaurants and more customers.
He said he welcomes the challenge of working in such a large casino like the Hard Rock.
“It’s smaller scale here. You have a close-knit group of customers that come in here. A lot of people from Tulsa come here to eat. They really enjoy the layout and variety of the buffet here,” he said. “But the amount of volume that Hard Rock does is tremendous as opposed to here.”
McClellan grew up in Nowata, about 20 miles east of Bartlesville. He said he had been yearning to return to Oklahoma to be closer to family. One of his two sisters lives in Tulsa. His father lives in Nowata.
He said his wife Karina was supportive of his decision to take the CNE job and move to Oklahoma.
“Now that I’m back, everyone is truly excited to see their cousin or nephew back in town, so it’s been great. I’m truly happy to be here,” he firstname.lastname@example.org • 918-207-3961