Chef Boo Hee
It’s all the small, cumulative experiences in life that bring us to where we are in the present. With most careers, obtaining a degree after several years of studying prepares a person for the working world, but in culinary circles, learning through years of grueling first-hand experience trains people best. “A lot of it has to do with the experience you have. You can go through all those classes and learn all the vocabulary and how to cut correctly—your knife skills and how to use a mandolin—but until you actually get out in the field and experience the pressure and how to work with certain people, I don’t think you really know what you’re doing,” Boo Hee Thomas laughs.
Having worked nearly every side of service, Boo Hee particularly appreciates the value of hands-on work. Growing up in Stillwater, she was first exposed to cooking by her family. “My parents are kinda hippies, so they’re both into health food,” she discloses. Because of those crunchy tendencies and her mother’s diabetic condition, it was more often lentils and artichokes than burgers and fries in Boo Hee’s household growing up. Her grandmother would also teach her how to cook Maltese dishes and pastries; Maltese cuisine traditionally focuses on fresh and seasonal vegetables.
After a stint working at Hideaway Pizza in Stillwater, Boo Hee eventually took up bartending at Stonewall Tavern, one of the most popular dive bars in the college town. Slinging drinks may not seem to be congruous with a chef’s work, but she actually developed plenty of skills she could take from the job. “It helps with agility, and being able to work around people, just like it is on the line when it’s busy. You have to dance with people and know how each other moves, and communicate,” Boo Hee states.
In 2008, she began a journey with A Good Egg Dining that solidified her career as a professional chef. Through working at Red Prime, Republic, and Kitchen 324, she was able to grow from a prep cook to a chef de cuisine, the role she currently holds at Cheever’s.
Some of the transitions were tough, and not just because of the workload. “Originally, when I worked at Republic, when I was transitioning from a line cook to a sous chef, it was a little difficult. Culturally, I think some men don’t like to respond to women authority figures,” Boo Hee divulges. “They didn’t like that I was being promoted.”
Kitchens can be notoriously full of assertive men with attitudes. “It seems like at first, I tried to be a little harsher to get what I wanted, but I didn’t get good results from that,” Boo Hee explains. “The way I changed it is people told me that if I were to be a little more nurturing, I would get more of what I wanted. My GM at the time was a male. We got along really well and I would ask for his opinion. I respected his opinion, but as a male, he goes through a different path. You have to fine-tune everything,” Boo Hee adds.
When she’s not running one of the more renowned kitchens in Oklahoma City, Boo Hee spends time with her family and friends at her house in the countryside. With ten acres near Lake Thunderbird, there’s plenty of space to unwind. It’s a particularly good area to barbeque.
“I like smoking meat, a lot. I know that sounds weird. There’s so many different elements to it, coming from the rub to what kind of wood you use, or what you put into the fire that can also flavor things,” she explains. “We practice a lot at the house because I like to make things in bulk so my family has things to eat when I’m not there. I’ll smoke a brisket and they can eat on it all week.”
Even though she’s already worked her way up to a prestigious position at one of Oklahoma City’s most beloved restaurants, our city can continue to expect even more great things from Boo Hee in the future.