Chef Kevin Lee: Competitor and Entrepreneur

Kevin Lee never dreamed he would become a chef, much less a winning competitor on television food shows—but sometimes a part-time job is life changing.

During his college days in Las Vegas, he ‘fell’ into a job as a prep cook, making terrible pay and working long hours, but he loved it. “I’d never thought of it as a career for a young guy,” Chef Kevin said, “although I enjoyed watching Emeril and Rachael Ray cooking on TV.”

The cooking environment appealed to Chef Kevin, and now he’s approaching 20 years in the business. He compares his career to a team sport. “You are part of a team, going through the trenches with these folks every day, but the hours fly by.”

Okie Style Chef

Although Kevin was raised in Norman, he spent time living along both coasts, in Korea, and as a sushi chef in Vegas for five years before moving to Edmond. His cousin told him that there was great opportunity and growth in OKC.

Chef Kevin landed on a variety of competitive cooking shows, including Guy’s Grocery Games and Alex vs America, which both resulted in first place wins! Chef Kevin says that getting selected for a competition is less about cooking and more about how your life story fits into their show theme.

For Chef Kevin, a major storyline is that the food culture in Oklahoma has a lot to offer, “Even if Oklahoma doesn’t get attention like New York and California. I want to show the country that we’re a small market, but we’re as good as any other city when it comes to food.”

One result of Kevin’s string of television appearances was the opportunity to meet and share industry tips from the world’s top chefs. Of course, he will always treasure the moment he won against the famous Iron Chef, Alex Guarnaschelli.

The Secret Ingredient

“Part of cooking competitively is staying calm and focused on the time limit and the rules of the game, but really, it’s just cooking, and I’ve been doing it for years,” Chef Kevin said. “I always learn when I’m cooking with other people, whether it’s a grandmother or a friend with a food tradition. I literally learned my favorite potato technique from a friend who uses a microwave–which I’d have never learned in a professional kitchen.”

In April, Chef Kevin is opening a restaurant in the metro, but instead of expensive fancy food, he created a menu of Oklahoma comfort food.

“Oklahoman’s love their fried chicken and sides, like macaroni and cheese, okra, coleslaw and homemade biscuits, but not a lot of places other than fast-food franchises have fried chicken.

Now, people will be able to come to Birdie’s Fried Chicken for family-style eating.” He describes his Korean-style chicken as light, crispy, and twice-fried—because “fried-fried chicken is twice as good.” But while the batter is special, Chef Kevin says the real secret to his food is simplicity. “I’ve put my chef techniques into the food people crave the most when they are hungry. Cooking simple food seems to be a dying art, but I don’t feel like it’s boring at all.

With a chef’s touch, simple food can be elevated into a beautiful thing,” said Chef Kevin. “Cooking for people is like giving them a little happiness, and that makes me happy.”

To learn more, go to or follow @chefkleeokc on Instagram.

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