Colin Sato has cooked in some of Oklahoma’s best restaurants — Nonesuch in Oklahoma City and Oren in Tulsa.
But, in his new endeavor et al., he joins a collective that is on track to become the most talented group of creatives Oklahoma has seen that serves some of the most delicious food in the state.
Sato is probably most well-known for his work at Vintage Wine Bar, where he was brought in by owner Matt Sanders to revitalize the food offerings in the restaurant’s new location downtown. Sato’s dishes offered a nod to his Japanese American heritage, and it was at Vintage where he teamed up with chef Marco Herrera, whose roots from El Paso, Texas, guide his Mexican American-inspired cooking. Together, they had just settled into the Vintage kitchen when the pandemic came to town and shuttered the restaurant’s kitchen in March 2020.
To support their colleagues and other out-of-work restaurant workers, Sato and Herrera started “Food for the Screwed,” a pay-what-you-can pop-up offering food to those struggling in the food industry. It was such a success that the pair brought more people into the kitchen to help. From the beginning, this collective of creatives was unique in that everyone was paid the same, from those washing dishes to the chefs running the kitchen. This transparent business model is still the practice today. When Vintage re-opened that July, the group was ready to start offering pop-up dinners — the first was a home-style Japanese dinner that featured 10-15 small plates and “a whole bunch of wine,” according to Sato.
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“There were three of us cooking and serving from 10 a.m. to closing time,” he continued about the dinner service. “We slowly added to the team until there were eight of us.” The group had to split hours because there was not enough room in the small restaurant kitchen. The group eventually chose to branch out and do other things (Sato kept up his dinners under the Natsukashii brand, and Herrera started Tres Nidos). They collectively decided to break away from Vintage but stay together. The owner of Foolish Things coffee house, Justin Carpenter, had attended one of their dinners and was so impressed he offered up his restaurant to use as a collaboration space, and et al. formed in early 2022. Et al., meaning “and others” in Latin, is the culmination of efforts, and as one glance on Instagram will show, the group is off to a busy start, with Foolish Things serving as “home base.”
Taqueria et al. takes place every Tuesday night, is led by Herrera and features Tulsa’s only proper nixtamal program. Et al. will cook, soak and grind heirloom field corn sourced from Masienda every week. The masa used to make every tortilla is made fresh daily, and tortillas are pressed by hand to order.
“The masa is so special to me,” Herrera noted on a recent Instagram post. “It captures the true essence of Mexican food — a product that takes lots of labor and love.”
Every Wednesday is dumpling night, a service loosely led by Sato. Look for hand-folded dumplings and Japanese fried chicken along with sake and beer. The a la carte service offers 5 to 6 types of food and beverages, and no reservations are required.
Showcase dinners run every other Sunday for two months and are held at Foolish Things Bar and Biscuit in Brookside. Currently, Armonía, a six-course tasting menu, uses food as the vehicle for telling the story of the Mexican American experience. Green and red colors, symbolizing both fresh and deep flavors, sharply contrast throughout the meal and then come together at the main course. Armonía’s remaining seatings are April 10, and April 24 and are available by reservation only. In May, there will be a new dinner, Sun Room, a semi-guided tasting menu based around hand-rolled sushi and will be led by Sato.
For Sato, Traditional Japanese Breakfast is both a fun, creative outlet, and a way to showcase his heritage, but he didn’t think Tulsa was a market for the concept. However, the monthly meal has often been a sell-out, and regular customers flock back for the $35 menu.
My husband and I joined this past Sunday and were both wowed with the food. Chloe Butler, a ceramicist and chef/baker in the group, makes custom ceramic teacups and mugs for each brunch, available for $20. Butler also makes the plates for dumpling night.
“Few people seem to know about this,” Sato said. “But we seem to have a cult following – some guests have attended 7 or 8 brunches so far.”
Guests start with hot toasted brown rice and green tea (genmai-cha) or a cocktail such as a Yuzu mimosa while waiting for the food to arrive. Servers bring the dishes all at once, which are to be eaten a bit at a time, with steamed rice and miso soup serving as palate cleansers in between bites. The menu includes a delicate slow-cooked egg with soy sauce (onsen tamago), vegetable pickles (tsukemono), wilted chrysanthemum greens (oshitashi), perfectly salty grilled salmon (shiozake), and my favorite dish of the meal, soft tofu bathed in ginger and soy sauce and topped with scallions and bonito flakes (hiyayako). I’m counting down the days until I can enjoy this meal again.
If biscuits are more your thing, Bischix is an occasional pop-up program led by Butler and chef Alex Koch. The pair heads up an all-female team and offers irreverent takes on biscuits at American Solera brewery once a month. Last month, 10 minutes after opening, there was a line from the back kitchen extending down the long hall to the front door.
There are so many talented people involved in this group, which also includes chef Julia Johnson (co-leader on Japanese breakfast with Sato and who has a background in accounting), chef Noah Eagan-Rowe leads drink development, is a CSS (Certified Specialist of Spirits) and is in training for his CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine), chef Sarah Thompson is also a visual artist and designer who has murals around town, and chef Peter Greve, Sato’s cousin, helps manage dumpling night.
Ethan Schaffer tackles design, branding and social media, a core part of et al.’s vision. Sommeliers include Dalton Smith, who does the wine pairings, co-owns a takeaway wine shop inside Heirloom Rustic Ales called Posca Lora and heads a wine education program called cork.wise, and Ben Deibert is a CSW and CSS who helps run service and develop pairings and cocktails.
If you’re jealous of this camaraderie, there might be a way to join the group. Sato leads an online cooking school. “How to Actually Cook” meets virtually for 12 sessions over six weeks. He bases his curriculum on concepts used throughout et al. — seasoning to taste, flavor affinity and recipe development are just a few ideas covered.
“I am training people to be confident cooks,” Sato said.
After speaking with Sato, one thing became crystal clear. These folks are here to tell the stories of their lives — the stories of immigration, identity and lessons learned — through food, drink, et al.