Q&A with Ben Alexander
The executive chef at The Tavern talks about his culinary training, cooking for his kids and summer menus.
Ben Alexander, executive chef at the Tavern, is known as much for his kindness and generosity as for his culinary skills. The Tavern is located at 201 N. Main St.
Tell us about your background and what led you to a culinary career.
I have been cooking for 20 years. I started cooking in Arizona. My only formal training was at a high school tech school program my senior year of high school. I started cooking because I enjoyed seeing a creation of something from start to finish. There are no limits on creativity with all kinds of food. My passion for cooking is mainly to provide for my family. But with that, I do my best to be a student of food, and I’m always trying to learn new, creative ways to deliver a quality product.
How has the Tavern changed over the years?
The Tavern has changed in some respects and has stayed the same in others. Since I have been here, our menu has changed anywhere from five to eight times a year. The reasoning behind that is the local produce we utilize, which depends heavily on the seasons. We still have Tulsa’s best burger, and our staple proteins have stayed in some shape or form. We have really been relying and sourcing from our local farmers as much as possible.
What can people expect at the Tavern this summer?
People can expect some really fun flavors that they may have never had before, but presented to them in a way that is familiar. I think that yes, we can push the boundaries for food in Tulsa, but it has to be in a way that our guests are not afraid of trying something new.
What will you be cooking at home?
After cooking and tasting all the dishes all day, I very rarely cook at home. But if anything, it’s usually mac and cheese or ramen noodles for my two oldest ninjas. They love noodles, pasta, cheese ... anything beige and carby. To be honest, my wife, Natalie, does most of the cooking at home. She has a more normal workday than I do ... and also, she’s the boss. I want to spend as much time with my three boys and my wife as possible. If I ever do get a couple days off together, I’ll usually whip up some quick noodle dish or something on the grill.
What’s your favorite snack food?
If I had to pick one, it would be chicharrons or spicy pork rinds. There is actually a brand out there that you can microwave like popcorn.
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off in the summer?
Oh, I’d probably be fishing, dreaming I was a Bassmaster Pro or something. Other than that, I like to hit up all the noodle joints with my kids for daddy lunch dates.
You’re known for your generosity. Can you tell us some of the ways you’ve helped the Tulsa community through the Tavern?
Well, it’s not just me. Our chef community is unlike any I have ever been in. We care about building this city up. We care about helping each other out, whether it be sharing cooks or making meals to help out the Food Bank. We do food drops at the hospitals for families who can’t make it out of the hospital because of critical care needs. Some of our staff volunteers time with a bike club for kids, Reading Partners for some TPS schools, and we do a lot of charitable fundraising dinners and events. Just this past April I was called on to do nine. It gets hectic, but it’s a small part of my time to make this city we love and live in a better place all around. My wife and I have our own nonprofit called Hearts of Steel Foundation. We help families dealing with congenital heart defects monetarily with bills like rent, mortgage, travel expenses to other hospitals. The mindset we have after our middle son, who had some real critical heart issues, is to always pay it forward. We almost lost him six times in his first eight months of life and a few times after that.