Six Degrees of Michael Smith
The culinary reach of this James Beard Award-winning chef extends far and wide. It seems nearly every talented young toque in town has, at one point, trained in Smith’s illustrious kitchen. We tracked his culinary web of influence all they way from KC to Paris.
Chef Michael Smith of eponymous fine dining restaurant Michael Smith and boisterous, neighboring tapas spot Extra Virgin has nearly single-handedly put KC on the national culinary map. Before there were the Garrelts (Bluestem and Rye), Howard Hanna (The Rieger), or Carl Thorne-Thomsen (Story), there was Smith. Not surprisingly, all three James Beard-nominated chefs did time in Smith’s kitchen.
Before he could train future star chefs, Smith had to become one himself. He honed his culinary techniques in master kitchens in Nice, France, and trained under iconic Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. An executive chef position at the prestigious The American Restaurant lured Smith to KC in 1994, where he has since resided, winning the James Beard Award for “Best Chef Midwest” in 1999. His first restaurant with ex-wife Debbie Gold, 40 Sardines, was widely acclaimed, and his two current restaurants, managed by wife Nancy Smith, have won national praise for their elegant but approachable food. (Even Mick Jagger enjoyed Smith’s culinary finesse during his recent KC tour date.)
On the menu: seasonal dishes such as the Tuscan duck rigatoni with chanterelle mushrooms and Parmesan or poached Columbia River Sturgeon with parsnips, beet paste, caviar and beurre blanc. The energetic chef also hosts a popular Big Night Italian tasting menu every Thursday with four-course meals of homemade pasta and lush dishes such as stone crab risotto. And recently, Smith orchestrated a special Champagne dinner showcasing the rare Alba white truffle. Next door, the sexy boîte Extra Virgin serves up savory duck tongue tacos, chorizo and fig-filled chicken thighs, and wood-grilled octopus.
With Michael Smith Restaurant celebrating its eighth anniversary in 2015, it’s only fitting that we celebrate the chef who has not only elevated Kansas City cuisine, but trained so many other talented toques who continue to enrich our epicurean landscape.
“I realized early on during my time in Kansas City that I would need to do two things,” says Smith. “One was continuing to educate my Kansas City dinner guests about new and interesting foods. And the second thing that was vitally important: embracing my role as a mentor to young cooks. My job was to teach them how to cook and progress in a kitchen to eventually become executive chefs, leaders and restaurateurs.”
Indeed, you can barely toss a heritage haunch of Duroc pork without hitting a Michael Smith-trained chef in this food-friendly town. Here’s a handy, if incomplete, chart of Smith’s gastronomic influence.