OC eateries freshen up; fine dining now open

Edgar Lopez, chef manager, wears a variety of hats at Odessa College. He and his team are focusing on hot, fresh food at Grab and GOurmet. (Courtesy Photo)

After being laid off from his oilfield job and moving home, Edgar Lopez was feeling down.

In his room, he began watching the Food and Travel channels. Seeing people like Anthony Bourdain, the Iron Chef and others inspired him to try his hand at cooking. He started cooking for his immediate family, then friends and barbecues.

Lopez is now the chef manager at Odessa College’s Grab and GOurmet and director of restaurant operations. Dwight Bowman is Director of Culinary and Stormy Williams is an adjunct instructor.

Grab and GOurmet is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Lopez said they are featuring hot, fresh food.

He was just trying to copy what he saw being made on TV. Texas Workforce Commission asked if he would be interested in going to school and they would help pay for it. He came to OC and found a home in culinary.

Lopez has worked at resorts and restaurants, including Osaka and the Eilan Hotel in San Antonio, a James Beard Award nominated restaurant, and Little Bohemian in Midland. He also did plenty of catering for the San Antonio Spurs.

He became manager of the cafeteria and took over as district manager where he was responsible for eight different campuses.

“I had a bigger platform. The bigger platform I have, the better. I feel like I can help more people and be a testimony because I didn’t start my career until 25 years old. … A lot of people when they go to those crisis, they’re like 21, 22. But it’s never too late (to) start a new career,” Lopez said.

He added that he goes above and beyond to help his team understand the significance of everything they have in the kitchen and appreciate the meat — and everything else — they have on hand.

Lopez said Grab and GOurmet is featuring hot, fresh food — meals that are out of the ordinary. Breakfast includes pancakes, French toast made with challah bread, eggs, omelets and burritos and beverages.

Lunch offers burgers, a Caesar salad, chicken club, black garlic and mushroom Ramen and Nachos. There are also all day items such as a parfait, fruit cup, cheese and fruit protein pack and cured meat and cheese protein pack. Before spring break, they prepared shrimp and grits.

The prices are still affordable.

“When you plate, you have to be able to plate with detail because from cuts of vegetables, from dicing, everything needs to be precise; consistent. We focus on consistency and being efficient,” Lopez added.

He said the staff includes employees and interns who are students. Lopez said he wants his team to be able to express their opinions and have confidence.

“In order to build them up, you have to build their confidence, so that’s very important to me to let them know that there’s always going to be obstacles. But at the end of the day, success is straight ahead,” Lopez said.

A fine dining area, overseen by Bowman and Williams, opened March 26. It’s called O’Cuisine, but that could change. Bowman said any rebranding is up to Lopez.

“We recommend reservations, but walk-ins are welcome. We’ll run that through May 9,” Bowman said.

Bowman said they had a dining room class and it became so successful that he had people who wanted to have it back.

The student run restaurant will feature everything from a charcuterie board to sandwiches and main courses of salmon, chicken and sirloin steak. It also offers dessert.

Director of Culinary at Odessa College, Dwight Bowman and his team are freshening up Grab and GOurmet and opened O’Cuisine this week. (Courtesy Photo)

“We’re hoping to do two turns. That means a seating at probably 10, 10:30 and hopefully they’re done by noon and then a second seating from noon until we close. It’s all student-driven … Stormy Williams is the lead instructor for the front of the house and she built Rustic Cafe and Huddle House for Bill Kent and Kent Kwik. She has a ton of experience with restaurants and the design and the menus,” Bowman said.

He added that he was feeling a little nervous, but excited about the opening of O’Cuisine. Bowman said the demand has been tremendous.

“It’s going to be a bistro style, meaning we’re just going to do tables like this. Of course the presentation on the table is going to be as upscale as we can make it. But we want to kind of get away from the fine dining because, in due respect, some people when they saw the tablecloths thought they had to get really dressed up and got a little bit intimidated. Once they came and ate with us, they said you know, this is really cool. So we’re trying to make it a little more friendly” Bowman said.

He added that the restaurant had a fine dining vibe last term, but now they are trying to draw more of the community in.

“The picture is we’re trying to rebrand O’Cuisine into something different. The goal is to have it open as long as possible. At Robert Morris in Chicago we only ran the class once in a while, so the restaurant wasn’t open consistently. If the class ran, the restaurant opened. If we didn’t have a class, we couldn’t open it so we want to avoid that — the start and the stop here,” Bowman said.

He added that the goal right now is to have it open during the school year.

“We want it to be self-sustaining. We’re a school; we need it to break even. If we can make money, that’s good, but it at least has to make money,” he added.

Any tips go into student scholarships. Lopez has also made it possible for the employees to be paid more so they will stay.

Williams said she is super excited about the opening of O’Cuisine.

“I think that we’re offering something that’s (is) … hard to find right here in this area. We’re going to try to be quick so that everybody can do it on their lunch break and I think it’s a great experience for the students,” she added.

Williams said she has enjoyed being able to recreate something from the ground up.

“I absolutely love it. It’s very exciting to create it. I get a lot of input from the culinary students, so it’s so interesting to hear their take on what’s new and exciting and different as what keeps us relevant,” Williams said.

She has been in the hospitality business for 45 years, starting off as a dishwasher and working every position along the way. Williams left as director of operations food service for Kent Kwik to open her own restaurant six months before COVID hit.

“It didn’t go well,” Williams said.

“I dreamed about opening my own restaurant my whole adult life and got there and was so excited. The restaurant when I got it was losing money,” she added.

They broke even in February and the restaurant was closed down March 13 because of COVID. She asked the landlord if he could maybe give her a break on the rent and the landlord wouldn’t.

“Then I started teaching here (in 2020) and I love it. I actually love it. It was the perfect spot for me to go, so I get to do what I love to do, open restaurants, and I still get to impart some of this knowledge to the younger generation coming up,” Williams said.