High atop an iconic structure in Oklahoma City just off the Northwest Expressway in Founders Tower is the new home to The George Prime Steakhouse, a prime steakhouse offering amazing views of the city from the 20th floor. The George, which used to be Nick's at the Top, has completely revamped its look and is very streamline with a lot of beautiful wood accents. What makes The George even more fantastic is the menu that was created by their Executive Chef and local celebrity, Josh Valentine. Josh was a finalist on Bravo's Top Chef and a local that grew up right outside of Oklahoma City.
I had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at The George as well as interview Mr. Valentine himself about a month ago. Don't let the handlebar mustache fool you; he mentioned that he doesn't always fix it...just when he knows he's getting photographed.
Can you give us some information about you? I read that you were from Oklahoma originally.
Josh- Yeah, I grew up in Del City. Born and raised there and grew up wrestling there. I got into cooking obviously from wresting because I couldn't eat my mom's casseroles. I had to make weight so that is when I got into food. I would do research by reading cookbooks and magazines to figure out something to eat other than pasta and baked potatoes.
Did you make chicken or lean meat or at what point did you get to cooking finer meals?
Josh- In wrestling I was always on a high-carb diet so I was trying to figure out other things to do with the pasta and potatoes but it (cooking) just sparked an interest. The more I started reading about food, the more I had interest in it and I really started to enjoy cooking and preparing it. My mom and dad are really good cooks, my grandparents always cooked, so I always liked being around that. Food has always been a big part of my life.
Can you tell us what the style of food is like at The George and what makes it different than others?
Josh- You know, here at The George we have the tagline of being a prime steakhouse. For me, I just feel like we are a really unique, modern-American restaurant. Steakhouses are a draw for everybody so you can come here and get a fantastic steak, because all of our steaks are prime and above. We have domestic and imported Wagyu. But everything else that's not steak has my full attention, so you're not going to get an after-thought of a broiled salmon with a side that's out of season. All of my entrée dishes are completely thought out and different, unique and plated artistically and that is what I try to do with everything. I want to give it all a personal touch.
What did you learn on Top Chef that you think you brought to The George?
Josh- I'm competitive by nature. Being on a show that is a complete competition about chefs, the same thing goes with the restaurant. I want to be the best restaurant in the state. I don't want to be just another steakhouse that does well; I want to be the best. For me, I'm always competing against myself. To be a better chef, you're always competing against yourself. I just want the restaurant to succeed and be the best.
What is a "must-have" at the George?
Josh- Obviously steak. My favorite is the Dry-Aged Rib Eye. It's a minimum of 35 days. I feel like if you come here and you're not a steak eater you can get the best chicken in the city. That was really my focus. Something where everyone could come in and still have that exciting seafood, salmon or chicken dish and everyone have a great experience.
I read online that it's about the experience that they (visitors) will have here. Can you talk about that experience?
Josh-Not only are you getting really delicious and thought-out food, you get the best view of the city. You get to see downtown, Lake Hefner and even Edmond. So, I think the views in our restaurant are better than anywhere else in the city. But, also, our service is top-notch. Going out to eat is about the ultimate experience and I feel like here at The George you will get that.
Can you talk about your experience with Top Chef and what that experience was like for you?
Josh- It's kind of funny how I got on the show. My wife and I used to have a little restaurant off May Avenue called Divine Swine and I came home from work one day and she said that Top Chef was having an audition in Denver in three weeks. I thought that was cool. Then she said she bought plane tickets and we were going to go. So, I went, auditioned, did well and then got called back and I ended up on the show. It wasn't something I had been planning; it was just something that happened.
From someone who is from Oklahoma, did you get that celebrity status after the show?
Josh- Yeah and it's still weird and uncomfortable (as he laughs). It's been a couple of years now, so it's kind of died down a little bit. I was living in Dallas right after the show and it was pretty chaotic. I would be at the grocery store and people would come up to me and ask how my baby was and I would have no idea who they were or people would say your name and wave at you. I am just a normal guy from Oklahoma so it's kind of a trip sometimes.
Do you have restaurant guests who want your autograph?
No. I used to, but not anymore. I try to go out to the tables for people that ask and I will go out and talk to them but I haven't had any requests for autographs since I have been back in the city.
What would be your ideal day in OKC be for visitors?
Josh- For me it's going to be surrounded by food. You have to get a hamburger at Nic's. For chicken I would take them to Eichen's or Railhead. I enjoy Asian food, so I'd suggest Pho. We have a great Vietnamese community here and my favorite Chinese place is Szechuan Bistro. We'd have to go by the Coach House and Lobby Bar for drinks followed by visiting my friends at Ludivine. For me, it's just about restaurants. We'd just hop around restaurants and eat and drink all day long. But when I have a chance to enjoy the city, I like to go out to the parks and enjoy the outdoors. I like to go to Lake Hefner and walk around or go where I can do some fishing or golf; that's how I experience the city.
From starters to desserts at the George, what would you suggest for my first time here?
Josh- I would start with our Crab Cakes. I think they are the best in the city. The Beet Salad would be next on the list. Not only is it a great salad but it's also something artistic and great to look at. Then, I would go with the Dry Aged Rib Eye with Potato Puree which is really delicious with Wild Mushrooms. Then for dessert, my personal favorite is the Manchego Cheesecake. Coffee and donuts are one of the most popular desserts and they are made to order... you can't beat that.
What do you think about the location of The George?
Josh-Our location is special. We're pretty iconic as far as the space goes here. We've already had numerous amounts of people come in that are celebrating anniversaries where they got engaged here or they used to come here with their parents or even came here before prom. It holds a lot of significance as far as their memories and they come back and they say "Oh wow, this place has completely changed." That part is really nice but I feel like being outside of the city is better for us and it gets you outside of downtown. I think it's an iconic space and I want the food match the history and the views.