Dinner Series Features Local Chefs, Winery

Managing Editor

CHARITABLE EVENING: On April 8, the inaugural Local Chef Dinner Series was held at Girouard Vines, 817 E. 3rd St., in downtown Tulsa. From left are Chef Justin Thompson; Jan Girouard, co-owner of Girouard Vines; Tim Slavin, executive chef at Juniper Restaurant and Martini Lounge; Chris Girouard, co-owner of Girouard Vines; Mitch Dees, founder of tulsafood.com; and Barbara Findeiss, executive director of Child Abuse Network.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

All summer long in downtown Tulsa’s East Village, the Local Chef Dinner Series is offering Tulsans the opportunity to take widely diverse culinary journeys with well-known local chefs in a Tulsa-based winery.

The dinners will be held monthly through August at downtown Tulsa winery Girouard Vines, 817 E. 3rd St.

Each dinner will be unique, and each menu will vary according to that month’s chosen chef, says Owner of Girouard Vines Chris Girouard.

The dinner series, hosted by Girouard Vines and tulsafood.com, held its inaugural dinner April 8 with Chef Justin Thompson, who prepared a five-course dinner with five wine pairings from Girouard Vines’ Tulsa Deco series.

The idea for the dinner series began with Girouard’s desire to create partnership opportunities with Tulsa’s culinary community. He solicited Mitch Dees, former owner of Smoke on Cherry Street and founder of online food publication tulsafood.com, for help. After Dees received input from Thompson, the idea was born for a wine dinner series to center around Girouard Vines’ Tulsa Deco wine series and to be paired with dishes prepared by local chefs.

What makes the evening truly unique, however, is the event’s purpose, says Dees. Each chef chooses a charity that receives a portion of the night’s proceeds. Dees credits that element (“The chef gets to choose a cause that he/she wants to champion.”) as a large reason for the first dinner’s quick sell-out.

In addition, Girouard Vines also gives to the charity 10 percent of its take-home bottle sales from each dinner.

At the inaugural dinner, Thompson chose as his charity the Child Abuse Network. “As a father, protecting children is a cause close to my heart,” Thompson said at the dinner.

Dees and Girouard have been encouraged by the public’s response since the announcement of the dinner series. “I had people telling me at the dinner to sign them up for all of the other dinners,” says Dees.

Dees also credits that positive response to the event’s local theme. “It takes place at a winery based in Tulsa, it benefits a Tulsa-based charity, and the meal is made by a Tulsa chef,” he says.

For the next dinner, to be held May 20, Michelle Donaldson of Tallgrass Prairie Table and The Bramble will be the featured chef, with Meals on Wheels as her chosen charity. Also included in the series will be Jeremy New of East Village Bohemian pizzeria and his chosen charity Acts of Kindness. Other participating chefs will soon be announced.

The cost for the dinner is $100 per person, with tax and gratuity included. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with free winery tours available. Dinner begins at 6:30. Additional information can be found at tulsawine.com.

After the last dinner of the series in August, a grand finale dinner is planned for Sept. 11, which will include dishes from all five featured chefs and with proceeds benefiting a local military organization. The plan, says Dees, is to make the final event much larger and to close a portion of 3rd Street and Lansing Avenue to allow for outside seating.

The location of the Local Chef Dinner Series serves the purpose of shining a light also on the burgeoning East Village District.

“So many people in the Tulsa area don’t know the jewel that is at 3rd Street and Lansing Avenue,” says Dees. This area includes Hodges Bend, East Village Bohemian pizzeria and, of course, Girouard Vines, which serves as an event center and is open for public tastings on Thursday evenings.

“The fact that there’s a vineyard and winery in downtown Tulsa, where they do all of the blending on site is very special,” Dees says. “I would say the winery is one of the best kept secrets in Tulsa.”

Girouard Vines was opened by Girouard in 2007.

In the mid-1960s, Girouard’s father, George, a native Tulsan and University of Tulsa graduate, began to create a hybrid grape varietal through cross pollination of European varietals and wild vines.

Girouard remembers growing up, watching his father experiment with and grow the hybrid grapes in the backyard of their Oklahoma City house. George spent 40 years experimenting with and growing the hybrids in the family’s backyard.

While his father’s efforts to create a hybrid were always meant as a hobby, Girouard began efforts in 2003 to grow the hybrids on a vineyard in Wagoner County with the hope of creating a commercial wine. After seven years, Girouard transferred the vines to a Bixby vineyard and also expanded his growing efforts, sending some hybrid vines to a California vineyard.

During this time, Girouard opened Girouard Vines in the East Village with plans of remaining a small operation, only creating a few wine labels for local restaurants, he says. “I didn’t plan for us to become a full-time commercial winery.”
Yet, that is precisely what Girouard Vines has become.

In April 2009, Girouard Vines released Fire Alarm Red, the first of eight Tulsa Deco label wines that are made with California-grown grapes.

The wine, after being initially blended in California, is shipped in barrels to Girouard Vines and is either stored in-house to continue to age or is blended immediately. The winery also handles the bottling and packaging.

This summer, after two successful California growing seasons of the hybrid vines, five commercial wines will be released made from George’s hybrid grapes. The wines will be part of the Girouard Vines label and will be two rosés and three reds, says Girouard. “These hybrid grape varietals were completely conceived, born and bred in Oklahoma.”

In addition to the growth of the hybrid vines in California, Girouard continues to grow the hybrid vines at the Bixby vineyard with hopes of producing the first harvest of those vines later this year.

“I want to bring my dad’s work to full fruition with the hybrid being grown in Oklahoma; that was his dream,” he says.

Updated 05-01-2015

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