Some people, when put under pressure, get clearer, more elegant, more refined. Tulsa chefs, apparently, come out weirder, scrappier, more cosmically brilliant and generous than ever. I’m hearing about chicken tikka masala tacos, folks. You deserve an explanation.
Taqueria Escondido—home of the aforementioned Indian/Mexican creation—is a new spot out back of OK Distilling Co., selling cider, mead, beer and some magical food on Fridays and Saturdays. (“Escondido” means “hidden.”) Both the distillery and the taqueria are the tasty children (that sounds terrible!) of Hunter Stone Gambill, whose adventurous life in food and drink led him to Tulsa in 2017—and, this year, to an explosion of efforts on the local scene, including an upcoming pasta restaurant and coffee bar. He opened the taqueria with culinary schoolmate Kevin Snell of Amelia’s and James-Beard-Award-semi-finalist fame. I asked Gambill and Taqueria Escondido trompero Zach Annett about what the heck is going on in this kitchen.
Zach Annett of Taqueria Escondido | Photo by Bea Baker
QUESTION 1: What's the concept of Taqueria Escondido, and how does what you cook play with that concept?
HG: We have a love for quality food that’s approachable. No matter how fancy you make a taco, it’s a taco. It’s comfort food. What we are trying to do in food is create unpretentious, delicious experiences.
ZA: To my knowledge, there isn’t anyone else in town who prepares everything from raw ingredients, especially the tortillas. We offer a fairly traditional al pastor taco and a Korean/Mexican fusion option. Weekly, we venture outside of the norm to create specials like smoked, peach-stuffed duck tacos, Korean short-rib tacos, and carnitas with a chow chow relish.
QUESTION 2: What’s your kitchen story?
HG: I ended up going to university in Nevada after school and was more in management than in kitchens. I was a food and beverage director for three casinos and then went on to grad school in Oregon, which is where I learned to make beer and wine, and to distill. I reached out to Kevin about joining me a couple years ago, and a few months ago life goals and timing worked out where it made sense.
ZA: I grew up with some exposure to cooking, helping prep for my mom and helping my dad when we would grill. I started cooking for myself when I moved to Fayetteville in 2008 to attend the University of Arkansas, although I was pretty limited in what I’d attempt. I’ve continued to expand my knowledge of different styles of cuisine, but never cooked before in a professional setting. About 8 months ago, I was really inspired to grow in my knowledge of tacos and started cooking different styles that are traditional to particular regions in Mexico. After everything shut down back in late March, I started cooking food and delivering it to people as a way to help out my community. Knowing the crew over at OK Distilling Co, I would bring them food from time to time (often tacos). I was approached by Hunter back in early April of this year, after he heard from someone that I had a dream of becoming a trompero. Although a software developer by trade, I’ve always had a few obscure dreams that don’t fall directly into that career path. He mentioned that he was starting Taqueria Escondido and asked if I’d like to join the team. Working a full-time schedule outside of cooking, I was hesitant at first, but ultimately decided that I’d like to be a part of it.
QUESTION 3: What are you working on in the kitchen that excites you?
HG: I spent 8 years living in Asia and worked with a lot of Koreans. We’re opening a Kor-Amex Brewpub in OKC, which was brought on by a love for both cuisines. We have no limits on our taco art. We are currently working on getting some of our favorite chefs, pit masters, and fellow culinarians in our kitchen for taco takeovers. We plan to start that next month.
ZA: I’m always wanting to grow in my understanding of cuisine. I typically will hone in on a particular dish and work through its different components, often substituting or altering a particular ingredient. Lately, I’ve been working to incorporate dried chiles into the masa dough for the tortillas, and have been trying different pickling methods for various fruits and vegetables that can be used for toppings. I’m hoping these experimentations will lead to some interesting taco specials in the near future.
QUESTION 4: I'm pretty intrigued by the Enrique Iglesias quote on the website. ("I don't have to tell you what it's all about, 'Cause baby, half the fun is in us figuring it all out.”) Would you say it captures the spirit of what you’re doing?
HG: I am a fan of Enrique. At the Dos Gringos Taco Park that Brady Sexton and I are opening in Norman, we’ll have weekly Enrique nights. When you own something, the ridiculous you want to do, you get to do.