[Originally published in The Tulsa Voice]
Hope Egan is a charming interview. Funny and affable, with frizzled red curls, she carries conversation with the effortless wit of a bartender. It makes sense, considering her long, storied past and many posts in the Tulsa restaurant landscape. Her inventive tastes, sharp cocktails, and cunning service know-how have been a beloved fixture in the Tulsa food scene for more than 28 years.
In years past, you might’ve caught her at such Tulsa favorites as Camarelli’s, Lucky’s and Ciao. In 2005, she started cooking professionally and selling her creations at the Cherry Street Farmers Market under the name “Hope’s Table.” In 2013, she conceptualized and was a founding partner of Tallgrass Prairie Table, downtown’s popular farm-to-table restaurant. In 2015, after designing and executing Tallgrass’s sister concept, The Bramble, Hope left daily operations of the company.
Now she’s introducing Tulsa to her newest creation, Red Thistle Catering Co.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle back to where I need to be,” she says.
As a boutique catering outfit specializing in from-scratch dishes made from locally and sustainably sourced ingredients, Red Thistle plates what Hope describes as “delicious food, simply prepared and elegantly plated.” Red Thistle is the product of the same slow-food fandom that primed Tallgrass and The Bramble, served in a more intimate setting.
Red Thistle’s offerings marry the sophistication of culinary-minded cuisine with the sensibilities of fresh, carefully prepared ingredients. Food from purveyors like Blakely Family Farms, Tria Yang, Middle Mountain Dairy, and Yer Vang Moua’s Farm are made into fanciful creations like farm beet tare tare, grilled pork belly with pickled porter peach, local heirloom salad with mint vinaigrette, and blackberry shortcake with vanilla mascarpone. Most dishes fall somewhere between modern American and Mediterranean, with seasonality driving the menus.
Beginning in April, Hope will post up alongside the other Saturday morning Cherry Street Farmers Market vendors to sell Red Thistle specialties—prepared and packaged seasonal meals, soups and spreads, baked goods, and even a few specialty cocktail mixers.
Perhaps most exciting about Hope’s new endeavor is her Saturday Night Supper Club. Once a month, Hope will cater intimate dinners in the home of a private host or hostess, with seats available to the general public. The BYOB dinners will serve between 15 and 30 mixed guests, with the themes and menus developed according to host and chef’s whim.
Throughout our interview, the question on my mind—and probably everyone else’s who heard about her departure from Tallgrass last year—wasn’t just, what happened? But, how are you? I followed Hope’s lead during our time together, thinking it uncouth to bring it up, and was surprised when she herself mentioned the unfavorable publicity that rained down on her last year. But Hope describes her 2015 with a reassuring sense of optimism.
“This last year has really been a gift. It’s been a year of transition, of personal growth.”
As she tells it, 2014 brought a personal unraveling. With the mounting stress of work, family, and deteriorating health, it wasn’t long before the bottom fell out; she was booked on a DUI arrest on December 29th, 2014.
She swirls her iced tea around, calmly composes herself, and describes a particularly painful, humiliating, stress-soaked blip in an otherwise full, flourishing life: major screw ups (that became majorly public), the shelving of family life, and the pain of untreated mental illness.
“I didn’t cook my family dinner once in a year,” she recalls. “I fell apart.”
Witnessing her candor is both moving and uncomfortable. As I listen to her talk, I’m struck by a few things: one, the bravery with which she speaks of what transpired over the past year, and two, the humility it takes to share it with a journalist.
In light of what’s happened, I wonder whether or not Hope feels like a victim. But listening to her describe growing edges, and balancing her mistakes with all that’s happened since, she seems more comfortable with the term “advocate.”
“I think there’s a double standard with women in the business,” she explains, recalling the swiftness with which the media took up her story and describing the tendency for women’s mistakes to receive harsher criticism in the public eye than their male counterparts. Hope says she knows plenty of male restaurant owners who’ve made similar mistakes, but who have not-so-narrowly avoided criticism for them. Rather, the mistakes were often swept under the rug, or hmmm’d at without so much as a wayward glance.
Hope remains optimistic about what’s ahead, and says that one day, she might like to use her story to help advocate for women dealing with mental illness.
“I’ve been learning how to take care of myself, how to make my family a priority. I’ve been able to cook everyday. It’s been very liberating. Self-care, transformation, work… last year was about finding out how I could do all three and achieve some balance.”
And Red Thistle, it seems, is the center of that balance.
“I’m really excited to feed people again.”