Chef James Fox

Last Updated: May 13, 2024By

Chef James Fox’s life changed the day his friend handed him a carne asada burrito. Up until that moment, his life had consisted of what he calls “homey” cooking – not homie, homey. 

“We were kind of a Hamburger Helper family,” Fox said. “Neither of my parents were great cooks, so we ate pretty humble food growing up.”

Fox and his wife Raenee (pronounced traditionally, like Renee) are the owners of the James Beard-nominated Vecina in Phoenix. She’s an upstate New York native, and he’s originally from Garden City, KS, but they met in Phoenix when both were involved with a restaurant opening. They have partnered with OKC-based Provision Concepts (Broadway 10, Hatch, Sidecar, etc.) to bring Vecina to Oklahoma City in spring 2024, and Riserva Bar + Tapas to Cherry Street in Tulsa late 2024. 

It could have gone a different way, though, because at the end of his high school football career, Fox had to choose between his first love and his most recent love. 

“I started playing football when I was about 10, and I loved it,” he said. “I played offensive tackle, but in high school, I started taking culinary classes, and I loved cooking from the moment I started.” 

Combined with a carne asada burrito, it was enough to push the nascent chef away from football and into culinary school. He chose Scottsdale Culinary Institute, which at the time, was accredited by Le Cordon Bleu. “I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to cook as a chef, but it was important to pick something I loved that wasn’t football.” 

If you think of culinary school as elementary education for Fox, then the downtown Hyatt in Phoenix was middle school. “I worked in every concept they had, and I absorbed as much as I could,” he said. “When I finished my time there, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to cook. So my ‘high school’ experience was at a French bistro. It was a crash course in French techniques – many of which I’d learned in culinary school – as well as developing specials, prep work, etc.” 

Clarity started to coalesce when he worked at The Mission in Old Town Scottsdale, where he worked his way from fryer to broiler in about six months. It was at The Mission that he first discovered swordfish Veracruz style, and aji rocoto, a member of the capsicum family of nightshade peppers common to Central and South America. The peppers look like miniature bell peppers, but they pack far more heat-carrying capsaicin than their milder cousins. Common usage in Latin America – aji amarillo, aji verde, aji rocoto – is similar to the U.S. method of distinguishing bells: red, green, orange, etc.

While at The Mission, Fox met a hostess whose family in Mexico needed a private chef. “They were ranchers and tequila producers, and they flew me down for an audition,” Fox said. “I got the job, but I only stayed a year. Cooking and meal prep for three meals seven days a week is a lot of work, and while it was a cool experience for my 25-ish self, I mainly asked the family what they wanted for the week, and then cooked it, everything from modern American to French to Asian. There was very little traditional Mexican cooking, because Abuelita was always around for that.” 

Fox met Raenee after returning to Phoenix. She was a bartender who had fled to Phoenix with her sister to escape small-town life. The two cycled through ideas and opportunities before deciding Phoenix was where they belonged. 

“For Vecina, we just created a concept around the food we loved, our go-to dishes,” Raenee said. “We went heavy on agave spirits for the list, and then focused on food we liked to eat.” 

Raenee now functions as a DOO of sorts, overseeing admin and front-of-house operations as well as taking part in high-level planning for Vecina and the newly growing family of restaurants. As for the Fox family, their daughter Rowan will be three when Vecina Oklahoma City opens. 

Both seem excited about the potential of Oklahoma City. In 2022, Fox and Provision Concepts founder Jeff Dixon announced that they would partner on Culprits in the Bricktown Renaissance Hotel. It was quickly followed by Riserva in Chisholm Creek, a candidate for Oklahoma City’s best new restaurant in 2023. 

“Oklahoma City has a ton of charm,” Chef Fox said. “In my wildest imagination I never saw myself here until Jeff and Edd (West, culinary director for Provision Concepts) showed up and we had a conversation. I’m looking forward to spending more time in Oklahoma City, exploring the food scene, because so far, it’s been mainly a lot of work when I’m there.” 

Vecina – OKC will be at the intersection of Memorial and Portland, with easy access from OKC and Edmond along the Hefner Parkway and Kilpatrick Turnpike. The new space is three times the size of Vecina – Phoenix, which is going to allow for a menu expansion.

“We’re going to keep it pretty identical at first,” Fox said. “Sourcing makes that a little tricky, since much of the food in Phoenix relies on specialty suppliers, but we’ll make it work, and eventually we’ll add some dishes that localize us in OKC. We’d like to do lunch and possibly brunch, too.”

If the Phoenix menu is any indication – and the James Beard nomination – we’ll be experiencing eclectic, delicious dishes from a variety of inspirations, with a solid core of Latin American and Asian ingredients: mussels, ceviche, duroc pork tacos, short rib barbacoa, octopus, hiramasa collar, and carne asada rib eye. Raenee said the beverage program – they’re both involved with tasting and choosing – will feature beer, wine and spirits, the latter of which will be heavy agave spirits as in Phoenix, and the wine list will have a preference for natural or low-intervention wines. 

“With Vecina – Phoenix, we were just starting out, so we had to use the space and budget we had,” Fox said, “but now we’ll be able to add much more and do much more in this larger space.” 

First Published in Luxiere

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