Breakfast of Champion

by Natasha Ball


Waffle Champion surfaced on the Oklahoma City corner of the Facebook universe last summer, posting a series of photos of waffle irons that looked like they’d survived Napoleon’s last stand. A post the following day from co-operator Tara Taylor—“Look for us in August!”—sent an outpouring of Oklahoma Citians to the page. Someone wrote, “I effing love waffles!!!” to which Taylor responded, “Word man!”

Oklahoma City is not the Food Truck Capitol of the U.S. That’s Austin, where visitors have been heard walking past their enclaves pointing and saying, “See, this is why we’re not cool.” Last fall a fleet of regulators from the health department, the ABLE Commission and the City of OKC descended on the first late-night rally of food trucks there, reports said, armed with clipboards and guns. A hoard had convened to witness the giant leap for coolkind, and they furiously tapped the blitzkrieg into their touch screens.

“I don’t know why they have such a hard-on for messing with trucks,” Taylor said. “I get two different answers … anytime I have a question. It’s a new thing here. It just takes time to establish the relationship with the city.” There was an outcry, and truck operators were permitted to re-launch the event.

Tara and her sole coworker, chef Rachel Smith, spent three solid months with some friends in her driveway, retrofitting a 1988 Chevy Step Van. Inside, they installed a stove, where Tara whisks country gravy and scrambles Oklahoma brown eggs. They installed four of the seven-inch Nemco waffle irons she showed off in the Facebook photos, weighing in at $1,200 each—worth it, she said, for that perfect waffle that’s a cross between the sweeter, denser Liège and the deep-pocketed Belgian. The formula for the batter includes bags of Shawnee Mills flour, local buttermilk, and sugar, the exact source of which is a chef’s secret. What emerges from the window—handed down in Tara’s freckled hands as a parcel wrapped in paper and foil—isn’t just a waffle sandwich. “It’s an adventure,” Rachel said “It’s worth writing home for.”

Tara and Rachel materialize for a few days each week at 23rd and Walker, in the vacant lot across from Tower Theater. Behind their seats, packed tightly in the back of the truck, are fixings for sammies both sweet and savory. The ingredients lists read like kitchen experiments scrawled on notebook paper by a couple of kids, the ones who stumbled into Mom and Dad’s fine-foods stash in the back of the fridge on a long afternoon during summer break. One of their early concoctions was the “Gary Busey,” a ham-and- cheese waffle packed with bacon, fried eggs, country gravy, and slaw; another, “The Beard,” combines melted chocolate, fried plantains, peanutella mousse, whipped cream, and pink salt.

Tara was that kid with the lemonade stand, a life behind a desk looming like a date with the executioner. Early on, she made it a point to befriend some chefs. After circling each other for a couple of years in the OKC food scene, Tara and Rachel realized they  aspired to the same: To make good food, and make people happy. A Waffle Champion is independent, Tara said. “It’s whatever people feel like that makes them a champion, makes us,” said Rachel.

A Waffle Champion is intrepid. Edmondite Aaron Franklin drives to 23rd and Walker every week for his Dub Champ fix. One Saturday afternoon he crashed a lacrosse match at Cheyenne Middle School on a tip from the Waffle Champion feed on Twitter, the truck’s homing beacon. He ordered the “Kenickie” from the Grease-inspired menu, heaping with bourbon-maple chicken and pepperoni, slapped together with red sauce, ricotta, and basil mozzarella, and paired with the name of the T-bird of equal amounts sweet and spice. “I think they’re holding it down,” he said. “They’re just really good Oklahomans.”

A Waffle Champion is free, and the road is its muse. Tara and Rachel never sleep in, rising before 5 a.m. to build batter. They depend on their truck, which slips from F to E at a rate of 10 miles per gallon. Sometimes, they don’t decide in which direction to point it until after the sun first kisses the steering wheel. They test the cake between the irons—it’s imperturbable, ready for anything.

“It’s like the Swiss knife of all foods, you know?” Rachel said. “You can do anything on a waffle.”

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