Greater Tulsa Reporter
COOKING HERITAGE: CTCA Tulsa Executive Chef John Oje displays Lau Lau, a favorite family recipe that his mother often made. Oje joined CTCA as executive sous chef in 2014 and was named executive chef in July.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
In July, John Oje was named executive chef at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa. Oje replaced Kenny Wagner, who left to reopen his family’s restaurant Paddy’s Irish Restaurant in south Tulsa.
Oje was born and raised in Hawaii, with a Hawaiian-Chinese mother and a German-Irish father, who worked as an executive pastry chef and baker. In addition to his father, Oje’s mother taught him how to cook when he was eight years old.
“I grew up mainly with influences of Japanese, Chinese, English and Hawaiian,” Oje says.
Those various influences coupled with a large extended family and a mother who frequently cooked for family gatherings, Oje gained many years of cooking experience.
“In our culture, when individuals come to our house, they are fed and completely taken care of,” he says.
Oje’s parents moved to Tulsa in 1992; Oje followed four years later and went on to earn his culinary degree from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee. He interned and then worked for 12 years with Tulsa Chef Michael Fusco as head chef at Flavors Restaurant and as executive chef at Michael Fusco’s Riverside Grill.
In 2001, Oje earned the silver medal at the “Best Young Chef” competition in Houston, Texas. He returned to the competition in 2002, earning the title as “Best Young Chef in the Southwest.”
Oje joined CTCA in January 2014 as executive sous chef to Wagner.
While there were some adjustments to be made when Oje came to CTCA, including acclimating to shorter work days compared with the typical restaurant schedule, many of Oje’s cooking standards translated easily to CTCA.
“At Riverside Grill, we were focused on using fresh, local ingredients and cooking in a clean and light way, not heavy,” he says.
In addition to creating the daily meals for CTCA’s cafe, Oje and his kitchen staff are responsible for providing catering meals for hospital meetings and events and providing individualized meals for patients with special diets.
Below is a family recipe that Oje remembers his mother making, called Lau Lau.
Lau Lau is a protein (chicken, pork or fish) wrapped in a layer of taro leaves and then wrapped in ti leaves, which have a high oil content that provides protection from high heat. In the recipe below, Oje recommends using swiss chard in replacement of taro leaves.
“After moving to Oklahoma from Hawaii, our family missed the traditional Hawaiian fare and ingredients,” says Oje. “Whenever my mom would get homesick, she would spend most of the day and into the evening cooking in the kitchen. She loved her Lau Lau.”
Chef Oje’s Lau Lau
4 large leaves of Swiss chard with stems
6-8 oz. of chicken thigh or leg quarter
Pinch of sea salt
Banana leaf for wrapping (2 ti leaf if available)
Fill a large steamer with water and bring to a boil. Sprinkle the protein with the sea salt.
Portion a 12-inch square piece of banana leaf on a flat surface.
On another work surface, stack 3 to 4 Swiss chard leaves. Place the chicken onto the center of the chard leaves. Wrap the chicken up securely with the chard leaves, folding the sides over the filling first, and then roll them up like a burrito. Place the bundle in the center of the banana leaf and wrap it up like a little gift. Then tie the center of the leaf together with string.
Place the ti in the steamer and steam until a fork passes easily through the leaves and filling, about 1 hour (2-3 hours if using pork or a tougher protein).