O.J. Moore knows his meat.
Moore, who took over last summer as the executive chef at YaYa’s Euro Bistro, even minored in meat sciences while attending Kansas State University. He describes a 200-seat refrigerated classroom, where students would study whole sides of beef, learn all about marbling and even practice making hot dogs and sausages.
His meat know-how is being noticed at Ya Ya’s, where Moore recently has introduced an updated and upgraded menu. It features steaks marinated for at least four days, top-quality lamb from Colorado and sauce bases that have been slow-simmered in an $800 stock pot with a $400 spigot.
Moore, who grew up in Wichita and graduated from Kapaun Mount Carmel in 1996, earned a degree from K-State in hotel and restaurant management. While in college, he cooked at several well-known Manhattan restaurants, including the Little Apple Brewing Co. and the Manhattan Country Club. During his second semester, he was lured by a classmate to a spring break cooking job at the Vail ski resort in Vail, Colo. When he graduated, he moved to Vail, where he continued a 15-year career at the resort, working in nearly 30 different restaurants and managing several of them.
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Last year, he returned to Wichita to be closer to his family, including his parents, who still live in Wichita. He took a job opening the El Dorado Chop House, but once it started to change culinary direction, he left that restaurant. In July, Ty Issa hired him to get the kitchen at YaYa’s, which had been without an executive chef for almost half a year, back under control.
Earlier this week, Moore sat down to talk about the influence his grandparents’ farm had on his career, the changes he’s making at YaYa’s and his passion for protein.
How did you first become interested in food?
“I think it was growing up helping on my grandparents’ farm. My grandmother always cooked from scratch, and the kitchen was the gathering place in the farmhouse. That’s where we had all our celebrations, which always involved food.”
Besides your restaurant, where do you like to eat out in Wichita?
“I haven’t eaten out much in Wichita. I’ve always cooked at home. It’s my way to relax. So I’ve been cooking more at home for friends and family. But on a day off, I like to eat at Saigon downtown, and Thai House on West Street is really good, too.”
How were you trained as a chef?
“I’ve learned a lot working in kitchens. While I was in Vail, I was really able to work with a lot of chefs, and I also taught culinary classes for the Colorado Mountain College. I’ve worked for probably 30 restaurants in the past 15 years, In Vail, I managed two to three restaurants at the same time.”
What’s your most indispensible kitchen tool?
“I’ve got a 100-quart stock pot that has a spigot at the bottom. That’s where we make all of our veal demis, pork jus, lamb jus… The spigot on the bottom allows us to not disturb the bones and gives us a real clear stock, not a cloudy one.”
What’s your most indispensible kitchen ingredient?
“It would have to be a good olive oil. We make a blend out of 75 percent soy bean oil and 25 percent olive oil. That’s what we use for a lot of our marinades and salad dressings, and it coats the grill. Without that oil, it would be a whole different cuisine.”
What do you cook when you’re at home?
“I like to barbecue and grill. It usually involves entertaining family or friends for an event or someone’s birthday. I really like to grill wild game. I like to be able to serve people venison or elk who say, ‘I don’t like wild game’ and change their minds.”
What’s your favorite food?
“I generally lean toward sushi. A lot of chefs do.”
Are there any foods you don’t like?
“I don’t like artificial foods or stuff that’s really enhanced with preservatives. My dad wanted to take me out for my birthday recently and I said, ‘Any place that makes food from scratch.’ I just want food someone cooked, not something where they opened a bag and dumped it in.”
What’s the best thing about the dining scene in Wichita?
“I think that what I’ve seen the most improvement in is the amount of and diversity of other chefs around town. More competition is good. It just raises the bar for everyone.”
What’s the worst thing?
“Maybe just how everyone is in such a rush to eat, whether they’re going to a movie or rushing to get the kids. I like people to spend time with coursed-out meals, really enjoying each course and pairing them with wines.”
What’s your philosophy about your job?
“I don’t like being second-best. As far as food goes, in a restaurant it’s hard to do, but I like slow foods. That’s why the steak marinates for four days and the veal demis take four days to make.”