The Unseen Force Behind Oklahoma City’s Jones Assembly by Haley Dobson

It may be difficult to catch a glimpse of Brittany Sanger’s small stature amongst the multitude of gleaming pots and pans and the swarm of bodies in white aprons through the large, waist to ceiling windows at The Jones Assembly. She works quietly and moves quickly, helping everyone wherever she can to ensure each dish is perfect. At any given time, she might be plating, cutting, frying or even butchering to prepare a dish from her curated fall menu. And this happens all before noon.

Sanger is the executive chef of the at The Jones Assembly in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she brought her culinary expertise all the way back to her hometown from Paris, France.

After facing many obstacles at home and abroad, including isolation, harsh teachers, a language barrier that left her confused about her place, and even those who doubted her ambition and ability, Sanger uses her experience to create a dining experience unlike any other in the metro. In March, 2015, with plans to open a music venue, bar and restaurant in Oklahoma City’s Film Row, Brian Bogert and Graham Colton asked Sanger to partner with them and operate the kitchen.

Bogert continually followed Sanger, a long time family friend, on social media as she worked in California, France and Boston. He was impressed by her ambition and knew she would be perfect for the concept.

Sanger’s culinary experience began at a well-known seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, California, during the summer before her senior year of college at The University of Oklahoma. She decided to change her major from pre-med to communications and planned to go to culinary school after graduation. Although she applied to many schools in America, her first choice was Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

According to the Le Cordon Bleu website, the school is, “considered to be the guardian of French culinary technique.” Sanger has maintained high standards for herself when it comes to her career. She found herself moving to Paris, a city she had never visited, to go to an esteemed culinary school while not knowing a lick of French.

“It was a big risk for sure, but I think at the time I was so excited about the whole thing that I wasn’t nervous at all,” Sanger said.

To graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, Sanger had to pass three different levels of lectures and practicals. The three-hour-long final exams for each level consisted of an empty recipe sheet of a difficult dish, which she had to know from memory and execute in a miniscule time frame. Sanger faced 10 culinary chefs from around Paris for each final and had to pass each time in order to graduate on time.

After her military-like schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, where Sanger estimates she spent 10 hours a week ironing her white uniform to meet her teachers’ extremely high expectations, she decided to apply to be a cooking assistant at the school for the summer to gain even more experience in the kitchen. She then took that experience to a kitchen at Paris’ notable Le Meurice Hotel.

For three months, she worked unpaid with only four other women and about 250 men (who liked to yell in French when frustrated.)

“It was definitely the hardest part of my entire experience in Paris,” said Sanger. “It tested my patience, but also my ability to stay strong and not let others and how they treat me defeat my dream.”

When her visa ran out, a friend she met in Paris asked Sanger to work for him at a new restaurant called Liquid Art House, an artsy venue with global cuisine. The executive chef for the restaurant was a well established woman in Boston who Sanger was eager to work for. She saw this time as an important opportunity to push herself to become even better at her craft, and Boston seemed like a great city to work her way up as a chef.

“The one thing I did know was that I was not going to be working in Oklahoma City,” she said.

At that time, Sanger believed that no restaurants in her hometown of Oklahoma City were up to her standards that she had built in Paris. However, in Boston, she learned a lot about restaurant management and what strong leadership should look like in smaller kitchens.

Although she made many close friends and loved living in Boston, she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Bogert and Colton to open a restaurant where she could have creative control in the opening. It took her two months to make the decision, however.

“I definitely thought long and hard about this opportunity. I knew if I did it, it would pretty much be my baby and I wouldn’t have a life for a while,” Sanger said. She said she wanted, “to help create a higher standard of what’s to come here (in Oklahoma City).”

Through all she learned in Paris and Boston, she believed she had the technical skill and discipline needed to run a kitchen herself. When Sanger told the chefs at Liquid Art House about her move, they said she was too young and inexperienced to open her own restaurant, but those who doubted her did not stop her from following her dream of working in a kitchen she could be proud of calling her own.

Madison Moore, a hostess at The Jones Assembly, said it is easy to talk highly of both Sanger’s cuisine and character.

“Not only does she care about her food and her image, but she cares about the people around her,” Moore said.

Moore sees locals come to the restaurant to food they cannot find anywhere else in Oklahoma City. She said often customers will come for dinner and come back for brunch or lunch the next day just to try more of Sanger’s unique creations.

Bogert believes customers appreciate Sanger’s worldly perspective with her use of ingredients, plating and different flavor profiles. Sanger specializes in seafood from her experiences on the East and West Coasts, but landlocked Oklahoma does not stop her from accessing fresh seafood. Four to five times a week they receive shipments of fresh salmon and scallops.

Bogert said even with their considerable staff, Sanger often uses her skills to butcher and prepare the seafood herself.

“She’s definitely a silent leader, but she’s always there. She works long and hard hours and kind of leads by example,” said Bogert.

Moore also described Sanger as collectively helpful in the kitchen, and how, even in stressful situations, she always stays calm so no one is afraid to ask for help.

“Never for a second have I regretted moving back (to Oklahoma City). It’s been an incredible experience and it’s taught me a lot more than I ever would have thought,” Sanger said.

Haley Dobson: “Breaking the Silence” by Ali Klima

When senior Ali Klima began working at the “Sooner Yearbook” her freshman year at OU, she wanted to get involved in something that would make a difference on campus. She was already involved in the Student Government Association, where she now holds an executive position, but wanted to use her love for writing in a more meaningful way.

When a friend suggested that she join the yearbook, she did not realize a yearbook was in existence at OU. However, after a 30 minute interview with the editor, she was hired as a writer-on-staff. She now feels like the yearbook is different than other publications on campus, like the “OU Daily,” because it covers important, more in depth stories that investigate larger campus issues.

Now, after working at the Sooner Yearbook for three years, she says her favorite thing about writing stories based on student issues is that she gets to meet students from different backgrounds on campus.

She was assigned to do a story about sexual assault on campus for the 2016-2017 publication. She thinks her editor assigned her the story because the topic went well with her writing style, as well as her concern with social justice through student congress. She did a lot of pre-reporting, including reading articles concerning sexual assault in the “OU Daily” and other local publications. She then usually tries to use her contacts in student government to talk to people who are directly involved in such issues.

This was a timely topic because David Boren made comments about the report the Gender and Equality Center released about sexual assault cases at OU, which caused concern among many students regarding resources for sexual assault victims.  

In her story, “Breaking the Silence,” Ali sheds light on the issue of sexual misconduct in general while also showing its impact on OU’s campus and why it is a relevant topic. She uses quotes to supplement her reporting well, and the ending quote of Kathy Faul, the director of the Gender and Equality Center, shows that there are solutions to the problem which make the reader want to stay informed about the issue.

When writing this particular story, Ali found that many students did not know there was a sexual misconduct policy. She realized that informing people through her interviews and through the publication of her story about Title IX was very significant.

All of the victims Ali spoke to were students at OU, and she made sure to be more sensitive and careful in her interview process. Most of the victims she interviewed wanted their stories to be told because they wanted to help inform and educate others about the issue and the resources that OU offers. She felt like she was able to empathize with everyone she interviewed, which she said made them more comfortable talking to her about difficult things.

Ali said only about 10% of sexual misconduct cases are reported, so she felt that those who did openly talk about their experiences made her writing feel even more meaningful.

Q&A Haley Dobson: Rachel Lukaszek and Riley Rohrer on OU Delight Ministries

With almost 200 likes and a cover photo of a large room packed full of college women, the OU Delight Facebook page continues to gain attention. Seniors Rachel Lukaszek and Riley Rohrer use social media to spread information about the ministry, which they hope can be a safe community for women at The University of Oklahoma to make friends and learn about the gospel.

According to the Delight Ministries website, “Delight is a nationwide ministry that invites college women into Christ-centered community that fosters vulnerability and transforms stories.”

Haley Dobson: Why did you want to bring Delight to OU?

Riley Rohrer: There’s a lack of community, especially among women, in regards to their walk with the Lord at OU. So, it was to provide an opportunity for girls to come together and have a complete Christ-centered community. There’s also something to be said when it’s only girls.

HD: How do you run Delight?

Rachel Lukaszek: It’s at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and we make breakfast every week. At 6 a.m. this week Riley and I were making cinnamon rolls in the kitchen and our roommate had made a frozen pizza in the oven, so it had sprinkled onto the inside. I opened the oven and smoke came out and set off our fire alarm. (the two laugh at the memory)

HD: How many women come to the weekly meetings?

RR: Our numbers vary a lot. Last year, pretty consistently, we had like 40 to 50 give or take. Our first meeting this year we had about 85 girls.

HD: Do you think those numbers will keep growing?

RR: I think it will the more people hear about it, but it’s hard for us because it’s hard to reach people outside of the Greek community. But, I think it will continue to grow especially the more freshman learn about it.

RL: It’s also crazy how many people said that they just saw us on social media, which we didn’t expect.

HD: Do women show up often who you have never met before?

RR: Oh yeah. We had a fifth year senior last year. We had put fliers up on bulletin boards around campus, which I didn’t think anyone looked at. She came all by herself and said that she saw a flier in the Union.

RL: A lot of freshmen were like, “oh we followed you (on social media) last year, and we’ve been excited to come.”

HD: What has been the impact on these women?

RR: I’ve had a lot of girls who have told me specifically that it’s been so neat for them. It’s been kind of like a safe haven for people and like stress relief in a way. This year, at our first meeting we had them break into groups by grade and just talk about what they’re nervous about and what their hopes are for the year. I got to sit with the freshman and hear them talk about how they were so worried about making friends this year, so I think it’s been a cool outlet for people to actually make friends, especially for people who aren’t involved in Greek life.

HD: How does leadership work in Delight and who will take over once you graduate?

RR: We purposefully have younger girls on leadership, so they can learn from us. There’s going to be some changes (next year), so we will see.

HD: How has Delight impacted you personally?

RL: I think for me it’s just kind of been a restful place. Being able to stand up in front of a group of women and be very vulnerable about what you’re walking through and how the Lord is moving in your life can be really intimidating. I think it’s been really good for me to have that experience. We do small groups, and it’s just good to hear where everyone is at and to know that you’re not alone. I think that’s been a big deal for a lot of people, but it’s been a big deal for me too.

Essay: A different type of celebration

BY HALEY DOBSON, JMC3023

By the time my sisters and I arrived at the hospital late that Friday morning, my family took up half of the spacious waiting room on the fifth floor at St. Anthony Hospital.

We were used to celebrations in waiting rooms, tending to fill them with extended family when babies are born. We joked about the coolers with a few bottles of wine my aunt always sneaks past nurses to celebrate a new baby joining the family.

So waiting for my dad to get out of surgery was different.

We fell silent when the doctor came in…

—–

Days before, my phone rang during an hour between classes while I killed time in the Union. I had made it through the first week of my senior year of college, and without much to work on yet I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook.

It was the time of day my mom usually calls to check in on me, and I answered expecting the usual conversation.

She asked about my day, and I told her I was almost done with my classes for the week.

Her tone changed, and she told me I might need to go home to Oklahoma City that night.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked, figuring it might be a family dinner with my two sisters and their children, who all live within a few miles of my parents.

She explained how three days earlier my dad went into the doctor with a sore throat.

That he had come out with news that he kept to himself for two days.

That he did so because he did not know how to tell anyone.

“A spot on his tonsils lit up on the CT scan,” she said. “He will have surgery next week and radiation after that.”

We talked for about 10 minutes and the word cancer was never said, but it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I slowly walked to class with an anxious feeling in my chest. Part of me wanted to tell everyone. Maybe talking about it would make it feel more normal.

I ended up talking about it with only my family because I thought maybe it would go away if no one else talked about it.

—–

My 58-year-old dad is a busy businessman with a very healthy lifestyle. A private man, not a sick man. So people talking about him at all, much less his health in the days that followed, was strange to me.

When my grandfather died of an aggressive form of skin cancer four years ago, the rest of the family saw my dad as the new patriarch of the family. He had already taken over the family business decades before, and he goes to the office almost every day. Those who know him love hearing him talk to a crowd. Some said his speech was the best part of my sister’s wedding.

Everyone praised him for his speech at his dad’s funeral and how strong he was for holding the family together during that hard time. I did not see him cry until two months later around Christmas.

—–

I thought about these things all week and went home the day before his surgery, where doctors would remove his tonsils along with any surrounding mass or tumors they might find.

We have always been close and it seems like we often travel in one large group wherever we go. My dad’s mom even came back from her summer home in Colorado to be with all of us.

While we waited, in the days after learning the news and even while sitting in the waiting room, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate your life choices. We are all a little reckless in our own selfish ways. My dad had quit using chewing tobacco when he first heard it might be cancer, which was something none of us thought he would ever do.

This process — wherever it was leading us — had been a wake up call for him. My Mema went as far to say it could have been a sign from God for him to quit.

—–

Back in the waiting room, the doctor took a seat next to my fearful mother.

“Surgery went well,” he said, “the tumor was benign.”

We could be loud and celebrate again. Tears filled all of our eyes.

No cancer.

No radiation needed.

Just a week long recovery from the tonsillectomy. Still, the anxiety remained in my chest knowing it would be a difficult recovery, not only for my dad, but also for my mom as his caretaker.

My dad is a quiet person at times, but he will not hesitate to let you know if something is bothering him. He and my mom would be spending more time together in a week than they have possibly spent in their entire 33 years of marriage.

He would go without solid foods, spoken words or a trip to the office to do work for the week. All were things I was pessimistic about, until I saw my dad in the recovery room with tears on his face as he gave me two thumbs up. This was the first time I had seen him cry since his dad died, but I knew seeing him that there was nothing but optimism on his mind.  

Then I knew everything was going to be OK.