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Collective Countdown Part 6: Oh Baby

I Ate Oklahoma is brought to you in part by:

WWelcome to #CollectiveCountdown. We’ve partnered with the developers of The Collective Kitchens + Cocktails to bring you interviews and info about the 11 chefs and concepts chosen for the soon-to-open Midtown food hall. Major thanks to Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer for sponsoring these posts.

“I cook a lot. A LOT,” said Michael Spencer. “I’m the kind of guy where, if I’m not happy with a dish, I’m up until 3 a.m. trying to figure out what went wrong, because it needs to be perfect.”

Spencer, who will open Oh Baby in The Collective, has decades of restaurant experience, but not always cooking in them.

“I’d like to throw some stuff out about how I graduated from the Cordon Bleu, but truthfully, I graduated from the school of hard knocks,” he said.

Chef Michael Spencer

His culinary career started as a dishwasher at age 13 in the same truckstop where his mom worked. When a cook got caught sleeping in the back, he was moved up to working the line at age 14.

His path led him through the original Applewoods and to a chain of American restaurants called J.J. Tippin’s Restaurant and Pie Pantry. He had ideas about being a chef, but that was well before chefs had the same cachet they hold today.

Traditional Dutch baby

“Becoming a chef meant working 10-12 hours a week for no money,” he said. “So I chose to take the management side.”

That career track sent him all over the country, but took him away from his son. So when Cheesecake Factory was expanding to Oklahoma City, he told his superiors it was his turn to choose and that brought him back to the metro.

How does this lead into Oh Baby? Well, Spencer’s son and daughter-in-law and a family friend knew his talents lay in the kitchen, having eaten plenty of his food, and they sent him information about The Collective.

“My problem was, it’s all been done,” he said. “But I remembered the day I was in Las Vegas and went to the Original Pancake House. I ordered something and the table next to me ordered a Dutch baby and I thought, ‘Sweet Jesus, what is that?’”

Lemon custard Dutch baby

He went back the next day and ordered one for himself. Then he started making them for Sunday breakfasts. And when his friends and family said he should start his own stall in The Collective, he decided to bring this delicacy to the masses.

“Everybody has their own idea of what a Dutch baby is, but for all intents and purposes it’s a fluffy, baked German-style pancake,” he said. “It’s a hybrid of a crepe, a souffle and a pancake.”

And like most breakfast pastries, Dutch babies are an excellent delivery system for a variety of flavors.

“Alone it’s fine. It’s better than fine. But when you dress it up, you can have a lot of fun,” Spencer said.

Which means visitors to The Collective will be able to try the traditional Dutch baby, with a bit of powdered sugar and a squeeze of lemon alongside versions with tart lemon custard, fresh blueberries, mint and a dollop of cream or on with mango chutney, pulled pork and candied bacon.

Savory fried egg and hot sauce Dutch baby

The one I’m most excited to try is Spencer’s salmon lox with finely diced red onion, arugula and everything bagel seasoning. He’s even planning one that might forever unseat Strawberries Newport from the OKC Festival of the Arts.

“I also want to do a rotating baby of the day, pulling ingredients from our stallmates, so we can highlight them, as well,” Spencer said.

Be sure to come back next week for another #CollectiveCountdown, brought to you by Okie Pokie and Chick-n-Beer. And keep an eye on thecollectiveokc.com for more info as the food hall prepares to open.


About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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