by Pam Wanzer & Stacy Brasher
Derek Nettle’s earliest memories are sitting around the kitchen table coloring, while his mother baked a winning collection of cookies, pies and cakes that earned 150 ribbons from the Oklahoma State Fair, 70 of them blue. He fondly remembers having an abundance of friends every year during the fair. After all, someone had to eat all
Highly supportive of each other, his close family served as his inspiration to become a chef on the fast-track to big achievements. “My mom gave me an understanding about how food and family come together,” he says. By the time his mother won the National Hershey Chocolate Cake Contest, Nettles knew his one great childhood truth could carry a career – food can be fun!
Landing his dream job as a chef for the Governor’s mansion six years ago allows his talent in the kitchen to serve others in the same entertaining and memorable way his mom taught him. His winning recipe for success achieved the perfect mixture of natural creativity and strong work ethic, which he inherited from his parents.
Nettle saw hard work and determination pay off with his father’s floral design business, and his mother’s talents as chef and event planner, making him a natural as he learned about blending colors and textures. Before he knew it, he had participated in 1,500 weddings, discovering his growing passion for the food industry.
His unique event experience led him to the Governor’s Mansion. Responsible for over 200 tables, Nettle was first introduced to Governor Brad Henry’s staff during the Inaugural Blue Ball, as a caterer. Around this same time, Nettle’s faced a life-changing decision. With no culinary school locally, he planned to go West where family were encouraging him to follow his dream.
News that the Culinary Institute of Platt College was being built right here in Oklahoma City soon put that dream closer than he anticipated. He toured the Institute three months before it was ready to open. Impressed with the diversity of the instructors, he became their first official student.
“I’m very happy to be a part of Platt College and I’m proud of how they’ve evolved into a great school,” said Nettle. “They have a lot of teachers that have spent years in the culinary world. Platt has pulled those people together to offer a lot of opportunities to new graduates in the job market.”
For two years, he worked long days and then attended school 6 hours each night, proving his passion could prevail. Before graduation, there were an additional 480 hours of “extern” shift time required, where he could get on-the-job training; however, Nettle knew he never wanted to work in a restaurant.
His desire was to work as a personal or private chef. Now armed with the education he desired, he set his sights on overdrive and pursued a lofty goal for his extern shift – a return to the Governor’s Mansion. His efforts were rewarded over the next six months, as he worked with the Head Chef, living out his dream.
After being part of the first graduating class of the Culinary Institute of Platt College, Nettle made plans to go to Italy for six months of additional study. However, after asking the Head Chef at the Governor’s Mansion for a letter of recommendation, he was instead asked to become a permanent part of the Governor’s staff.
“I love my work so much because there’s no typical day,” he said. “Everyday is different.” The daily tasks range from a fast, short order cook for the Henry Family, to preparing an evening of appetizers for several events, or a grand buffet.
Although he accepted the job of his dreams, he didn’t give up on his aspirations to travel to Italy – simply postponed them a bit. “Food speaks a lot about a culture,” he says. “I’ve been able to travel abroad and I’ve had great experiences. I have a greater understanding of cultures through their food.”
“I pride myself on blending Oklahoma products and tastes with those of the guests being entertained at the Governor’s Mansion,” he said. “I’m meticulous about understanding where the guests are coming from so I can incorporate their specialties and tastes into the evening, making them feel at home.”
Nettle’s loves to blend the old with the new, and has created over 200 different styles of appetizers. His greatest accomplishment for the Governor’s Mansion was a seven course dinner prepared for 240 guests. “My goal is to make every meal be the very best it can be. Unlike a restaurant, there are no second chances to make a good impression,”
While Nettle concerns himself with the impression his food makes, others are quite keen on the impression he has made in the culinary world. Michael Pugliese, president at Platt College says, “Years after his own success, Chef Nettle still sits on Platt’s Advisory Board, which allows him to give to those who share his passion for culinary arts. Despite all of his academic and professional success, Chef Nettle’s greatest achievements have been what he has given back to others.”