Tragedy strikes dining community again with loss of chef Michael Paske

Last year, he helped his old partners at Cafe 7, Jimmy Mays, Chris Kana, and Stephanie Miller, open The Hamilton Supperette and Lounge in Northpark Mall. Most recently, he’d joined the brigade at chef Olivier Bouzzerand’s Fait Maison in Edmond.

Chef Michael Paske passed away at the age of 40 on Thursday. [Dave Cathey/The Oklahoman]
Chef Michael Paske passed away at the age of 40 on Thursday. [Dave Cathey/The Oklahoman]

Paske was a beloved member of the local diningscape, always first to volunteer. One of the great joys I’ve had from my perch just high enough to observe the inner workings of the industry has been watching Paske evolve from a nervous kid slinging spaghetti and meatballs to an accomplished chef with an advanced skill set who never passed an opportunity to mentor youth.

I’ve acted as master of ceremonies for the Oklahoma Restaurant Association’s Odyssey de Culinaire event for several years now, and watching Paske coordinate students and support staff was among the highlights.

I remember watching him direct traffic behind the scenes in Tulsa three summers ago, ushering servers, dishwashers, chefs and coordinators in two languages and calling them out by name as they passed even though he’d only met many of them the same morning.

There was a joy in Paske that was palpable when he was surrounded by his culinary community. In sports, they would’ve called him a “glue guy.”

He was known to check in out of the blue “with a text, or a call, or a drop in to say hey, need any help? (Or)  I’m so proud of all you have done in the Oklahoma restaurant industry,” wrote fellow Coach House apprentice Beth Ann Lyon on social media.

Paske sent me similar messages from time to time, checking in on how things were going with me especially after my son Luke passed away in 2017 from an accidental drug overdose. He knew Luke, which led to lengthy conversations about the pressures and pitfalls of working as a chef and the need for mental health support in working kitchens. He never hid his struggle and was quick to offer an ear to anyone struggling themselves. 

Paske was a friend to the homeless community, a regular contributor to the annual Turkey Tango for the homeless on Thanksgiving and the Chefsgiving event that grew out of it. He loved haunting Delbert Briggs’s kitchen at The Homeless Alliance every chance he got.