Joseph Coleman knew he was destined to become the first executive chef at Red Oak Steakhouse in Pine Bluff when Todd Gold, the director of food and beverage at Saracen Casino Resort, shared his vision for the resort’s upscale restaurant.
“He told me he wanted Red Oak to be the best restaurant in Arkansas, not just the best steakhouse.”
Gold’s vision resonated with Coleman. Now, two and a half years after Saracen opened with Coleman as Red Oak’s executive chef, Gold’s vision is resonating with the local community.
Coleman said Gold gave him the symbolic keys with “free range” to manage the menu. Red Oak, of course, is known for its Kobe beef — many consider it the state’s best steakhouse — but Coleman indeed has expanded the menu. His goal is to make sure patrons are treated to a dining experience unlike any in Arkansas. And he wants Red Oak visitors to be wowed by every aspect of the experience, right down to plate presentation.
“If I see the clientele pulling out their phones and taking pictures of their plates, then that means I’m doing something right.”
Coleman, who spent nine years working for Chef Andre Poirot at the Peabody in Little Rock before the Marriot conversion, intends to introduce Saracen patrons and southeast Arkansas diners to new culinary sensations. For example, look for elk on Red Oak menu soon. And that goes for his staff, as well, some of whom had little upscale culinary experience when they joined the new venture in 2019.
“One of my cooks had worked at a Huddle House,” Coleman said. “One day, he asked me, ‘How do you make pasta?’ So, we started from the beginning. Today, he makes the best pasta from scratch.”
Coleman said that hunger to expand pallets applies to both his workers and diners. “They take the culinary arts very seriously and want to learn.”
After Marriott took over the former Peabody, Coleman stayed on but was asked to travel and consult at various properties within the Davidson Hospitality Group footprint. He became a “fix it” chef.
Coleman said that experience served him well when he launched the Red Oak kitchen.
“I went from a fix-it guy to a start-it-from-scratch guy,” he said. “But that traveling experience gave me a good idea how to start from scratch.”
The high standards set by Coleman and Gold to be the best restaurant in Arkansas give Red Oak an edge, Coleman believes.