Picture a sumptuous dinner club fusing locally foraged ingredients with Japanese and Choctaw cuisine, featuring an array of coffee pairings reflecting a belief that “coffee has the culinary depth of fine wine and can be elevated and paired with the quality of fine foods.” It sounds like the kind of thing one would get a private letter-pressed invitation to in Brooklyn, or some other big-city market, but it’s actually a new project called Nani, in the works now in Oklahoma City.
Seasoned hospitality professionals opening seriously ambitious coffee projects in smaller markets has been one of the biggest storylines of our ongoing Build-Outs Of Summer series, and Nani is quite the example. Though OKC may be more known for the Flaming Lips than flaming siphon burners, the city has had a dedicated coffee scene for awhile, with Elemental Coffee as a cornerstone. Nani is a venture from local chefs Andon Whitehorn and Colin Stringer, in collaboration with Paul Zimmerman, manager of Elemental Coffee.
Nani, a “Japanese/Choctaw Kitchen” is slated to open in August. According to the team, “Nani” is both the Japanese word for “what?” and the Choctaw word for “fish.”
As told to Sprudge.com by Paul Zimmerman.
Can you tell us a bit about your new space?
Our space is a historic house in OKC that is 102 years old. We are building it out as a full kitchen downstairs with a single ten-seat table in each of our two dining rooms. The kitchen we’re working in currently has a sink and a stove and some terrible counters, that’s it. We’re really proud of the trial-run mini-dinners we’ve hosted in the space so far.
We’re growing all our own micros is a small garden on the property (guarded by a Sulcata Tortoise) and are foraging almost all of our plant materials in rural Oklahoma.
What will coffee and food service look like at Nani?
Our normal service will be two tables, 10 seats each.
Everyone eats the same thing at the same time. Courses are about 10 minutes apart, with a set menu. Our two chefs come out and deliver each dish, explaining where the ingredients are from and establishing a connection between the diner and their meal.
Elemental will be the flagship coffee provider for Nani. They offer fantastic coffees on par with what anyone is doing right now, and they’re less than a mile from our location. It’s too perfect.
For a coffee example, we all really love whisky and think French whiskies, being super clean, smooth, and floral, pair beautifully with a chocolate truffle or other sweet of some kind. We brewed, via a Chemex, a Rwanda Kigeyo from Elemental. It was super smooth, velvety bodied dark chocolate and a hint of elderflower. We served 4oz to each diner, alongside a serving of Bastille, a French whisky. We basically treated the coffee as the chocolate truffle and let the two drinks stand together, but on their own.
It was beautiful. Such a warm and enhancing collaboration. I don’t know why this kind of pairing doesn’t occur more often!
What’s this gorgeous-looking iced coffee drink?
We recently brewed a Rwanda Kabirizi, prepared as a Japanese iced coffee, shaken to give it a head like a milk stout, finished with a lavender garnish, as our intro course/palate cleanser for the night’s dinner.
Who is in the crew? What are your backgrounds?
The crew! From left to right:
Colin Stringer -> Co-Owner and Chef.
Colin is a self-taught chef. Worked his way from a line cook at Waffle House to being the sous at Tamazul, a Matthew Kenney restaurant, over the last 2 years. Frontman for a local punk band and Bulleit Rye enthusiast. Nani is a way for him to pour his passion into something where he can tangibly see how it affects individuals, something rare for people who work in kitchens.
Paul Zimmerman -> Coffee kid.
Worked in some capacity for almost every specialty coffee shop in the OKC metro area. Notably, started as a barista for Crimson and Whipped Cream, 2 years ago. Did trainings and wholesale for Mariposa Coffee Roastery in Norman, OK, and now manages Elemental Coffee Roasters in OKC. MC for a local hiphop group and a book worm.
Andon Whitehorn-> Co-Owner and Head Chef.
Self-taught sushi chef. Part Choctaw. Has been in kitchens for almost 15 years. Nani is his brainchild. Also a Stroh’s beer fanboy. Plays bass in a spaghetti western-themed metal band and has too many corgis. He presents diners with food they’ve never dreamed of in a context of familiarity, while still challenging their sensibilities and encouraging them to think outside their experiences.
What’s the tortoise’s name?
His name is Norbert, and he’s about two and half years old. He’ll eventually grow to the size of a standard tortoise that you might see at a zoo, and live anywhere from 150-200 years. Maybe forever.
Photos by Rachel Apple