The Good Food Gang
As we prepare to head into a new year, we get the word on the local culinary scene from Kansas City's best chefs.
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You can’t talk about fine dining in Kansas City without talking about Colby and Megan Garrelts. The pioneering husband-wife team opened Bluestem in 2004 on the edge of Westport with a sophisticated dining room designed to match Colby’s progressive menu of new American cuisine and Megan’s elegant desserts. For more than a decade, Bluestem has been one of the most immediate examples of refined Midwestern dining — and the Garrelts have the accolades to prove it (plus a cookbook: Bluestem: The Cookbook released in 2011).
In 2012, with a mind to showcase some more down-home culinary comforts, the Garrelts opened Rye in Leawood. And we’ll say this: Heaven is found somewhere between Colby’s fried chicken and Megan’s banana cream pie.
In November, Bluestem stopped serving brunch and began opening its adjoining lounge for happy hour at 4 p.m. But that’s not the only change the Garrelts have planned. A new project is in the works — caught, at the moment, “in lawyer limbo,” Colby says — and will soon be unveiled to the public. It’s sounding like a busy 2017, indeed.
Megan, your chocolate soufflé with butterscotch sauce is divine! Tell me why you chose it.
Megan Garrelts: We used to do soufflés all the time at Bluestem, and we do them for special occasions now. I did them last Christmas for our family dessert. Everyone loves something baked to order, and it’s warm and sweet — it’s just the perfect winter dessert, but it’s not super heavy. The molten-chocolate-cake trend is gone, but soufflés are a really great party item. They’re the perfect pastry dish, and if someone wants to cook them at home and can do them well, they impress.
Tell me about your favorite local spots around Kansas City.
Colby Garrelts: We pretty much go to any place that’s local, so it’s whatever we’re in the mood for. If you want a fun, lively atmosphere, you go to a place like The Rieger or Port Fonda; if you want something a little more intimate, it’s Novel. It just depends. If we go to lunch, we go to Happy Gillis or Genessee Royale.
MG: We go to Heirloom [Bakery] for lunch a lot with the kids, and that’s great. And we love Cafe Provence for a nice snowy night in. We’re all over the place. I love Ragazza, too — great pasta and great wine. It’s cozy.
Favorite cocktail joint?
CG: We like Julep. And we love Brock Schulte at The Rieger. If we have people in town, we take them to Julep or Manifesto.
MG: If we’re talking specific drinks, I like the gimlet at Port Fonda. And Berto [Santoro at Extra Virgin] — he knows how to make me something that makes me feel like we’re on spring break, but in a very classy way.
What’s your comfort food, and where do you go for it?
CG: We’re lucky in the fact that John [Brogan] is a chef here now, and Andrew [Longres] is a chef at Bluestem, and we spend three nights a week at home with our kids, so most of our comfort food happens there. I do pastas and osso buco [braised veal]. It’s great in the winter.
MG: If we want to get fancy shellfish — and we love shellfish and crab — we go to Jax [Fish House & Oyster Bar].
CG: Every single time we go out, we try to go someplace we haven’t been. That is definitely our objective, and if we can’t do that, we fall back on people that we love — Port Fonda, Rieger, Michael Smith Restaurant.
MG: Cafe Provence is my comfort food. Their dover sole is incredible.
CG: We love to go to Ponak’s, because no one there knows us. And we love El Pollo Rey. And there’s that one place in Martin City, Taqueria Dos De Oros — it’s our little secret.
You’ve both been in the business a long time. How do you still inspire and challenge yourselves?
CG: I think the restaurant business as a whole is what’s inspired us and kept us going. I started as a chef, and I still cook, I still am a chef, but the other facets of the restaurant business are extremely fascinating to us. What it used to be for me was the pursuit of excellence when it came to food, and now it’s a pursuit of excellence at creating and sustaining restaurants. That’s what drives me. And bringing these young guys up and mentoring them — that’s what it’s about, mentoring the next generation and keeping the train moving.
MG: When you’re training as a chef, they don’t train you to be a restaurateur. For me, what inspires me is that, at this point, we’ve been able to travel more than we have before, and being able to see other parts of the world and our country and seeing what is being done — simple food done well, and saying, “Wow, people still love this!” But also seeing off-the-wall stuff. And then realizing that what we’re doing in Kansas City is relevant with what you’re going to see around the country, and that’s awesome.
Can you speak to how you’ve seen the Kansas City culinary scene evolve over the years, and what things might look like in the future?
CG: When we first opened, the independent restaurant scene was very small. It was a hungry little mouse that could never get enough to eat, and small restaurants struggled against the chain restaurants, and it was an overwhelming theme: How do we get past the chain-restaurant chokehold? And that has totally changed — I never, ever, ever hear that anymore.
MG: I haven’t been here my whole life — I’ve been here about 14 years — and what I’ve seen is a change in the flyover mentality. There was a chip on the shoulder, and it seemed like you had to make excuses for being from Kansas City. When we traveled, we downplayed where we were from — it seemed like we had to. That’s changed. There’s a lot more Kansas City pride, and we’re proud of where we’re from. I see people taking more risk here and exploring more of the scene. I see the city connecting the dots a lot; it used to be that people would say, “Oh, I won’t go past 65th and whatever,” like a neighborhood was too far or out of bounds. But now, it’s like, if it’s good food, you’ll go wherever to get it. People will go anywhere to find what’s best.
Bluestem, 900 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo. (816) 561-1101, bluestemkc.com
Rye, 10551 Mission Road, Leawood, Kan. (913) 642-5800, ryekc.com
One 5- to 6-pound skin-on pork belly with loin attached (your butcher can order you one or prepare one this way)
1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup of diced prosciutto or dry cured ham
1/4 cup chopped thyme
Zest of 2 lemons, finely chopped
2 shallots, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. On a large cutting board, lay the belly skin side down. In a mixing bowl, add all the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the herb mixture on the inside of the belly and loin. Next, roll the loin like a roast with the belly on the inside and the skin on the outside. Tie with butcher’s twine in 3-inch sections tightly to keep the roll tight and firm. Place the roll on a wire rack and in a roasting pan. Place in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes or until the skin develops a good caramel color and begins to firm. When this is achieved, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue to roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the roast reaches 165 degrees, approximately 2 or more hours. Let the roast rest for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Remove all of the butcher’s twine with scissors and slice the roast just before serving.
Chocolate Soufflé with Butterscotch Sauce
This recipe is a simple soufflé with components that can be made days before, allowing you to only whip the egg whites and bake the day you want to serve it. We have often made this recipe at Bluestem, and occasionally I will bake these rich, chocolatey soufflés for Christmas dinner alongside warm butterscotch sauce, borrowed from Bluestem, the Cookbook.
3/4 cup pastry cream, recipe follows
4 tablespoons Valrhona cocoa powder or other variety of dark cocoa
3 tablespoons chocolate liquor
7 egg whites
3 pinches cream of tarter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Unsalted butter and granulated sugar for ramekins
Butterscotch sauce for serving (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and sugar six 4-ounce porcelain ramekins. Set aside in a shallow baking pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pastry cream, cocoa powder and chocolate liquor until combined. In a separate mixing bowl, using a whip attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy. While whipping, slowly stream in the sugar.
Whip the egg whites until medium stiff and glossy. Fold the whipped egg whites gently into the chocolate pastry cream mixture until thoroughly combined, being careful not to deflate the whipped egg whites. Evenly distribute the chocolate mixture into the prepared soufflé ramekins.
Using a small spatula, dome the soufflé mixture to give some height from the base of the ramekin with the filling. Using your fingers, gently clean the rim of the ramekins to free them from butter, sugar and excess soufflé mix. Place the ramekins in a shallow pan filled halfway with warm water.
Place the pan into the preheated 400-degree oven. Bake the soufflés for 10-12 minutes until the tops rise fully and they get a slight toast to the tops. Once baked, remove from oven and serve immediately with warm butterscotch sauce (optional) and a dusting of powdered sugar.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
4 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Combine cream, ¾ cup milk, 1 cup sugar, vanilla and salt in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer. In a medium bowl, mix the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of sugar and egg yolks until well combined. Temper the hot liquid into the egg and cornstarch mixture by slowly whisking the two together. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Strain back into the saucepan. Whisk constantly on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly like pudding. Take the custard off the heat and whisk in the butter, mixing until the butter is completely melted. Transfer pastry cream to a container. Put plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to avoid a skin from forming. Chill the custard in the refrigerator until cooled evenly. Set aside until needed for the soufflé mixture. Yield: 4 cups
1 cup brown sugar
5 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon butterscotch liqueur (like Schnapps)
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, cream, salt, vanilla and liqueur. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a rapid boil over high heat. Remove from heat and continue to whisk for a few seconds more. Strain the hot butterscotch through a fine-mesh sieve. Stir in the lemon juice and transfer the butterscotch to a heatproof container. Keep warm until serving or set in the refrigerator to cool. If it is well-covered, the sauce will keep for up to a month refrigerated. When chilled, the butter will separate from the sugar. To bring the butterscotch to its proper consistency, soften the butterscotch slightly by heating on the stove over low heat or zap it in a microwave for about 30 seconds. Whisk the butterscotch vigorously until it re-emulsifies (a hand-held blender is particularly useful for this). Reserve this sauce for pouring into the hot soufflés when baked. Yield: 1 3/4 cups
There are probably a lot of things you don’t know about the people who bring you your Cobb salad with dressing on the side or your medium-rare tenderloin. Unless you’re part of the club that recognizes boat-sized Danskos, a crisp apron with a jealously protected collection of pens, and a toothy smile as a uniform, you may never know — if it weren’t for us.
We surveyed a group of local servers from a mix of fast-casual and high-end restaurants who shared their real feelings (on the condition of anonymity, of course). If you’ve ever been curious about who gets preferential treatment at a restaurant, what your server really thinks about you and your 10-percent tip, and what nights will guarantee you great service, we have answers.
By your estimation, what percentage of servers have a substance abuse issue?
Server 1: 90 percent or more. Service industry money earned is almost always put directly back into the service industry — i.e. alcohol — or into other substances (drugs, cigarettes, etc.)
Server 5: I would say 60 percent. Definitely more than half the people I know who are servers have a substance abuse issue.
How do you handle the people who send things back all the time?
S3: It depends on what they’re sending it back for. If it’s an item with a questionable temp, I mean, sometimes that’s subjective, but it’s your job to fix it. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a big deal, and it doesn’t bother me unless the guest is really rude about it.
S4: That’s a rare problem at my restaurant, but when it does happen, we ask what was wrong with the dish — if it was too salty or something — and ask if they want that remade with no salt. If they don’t want it at all, I bring them a menu, and we get something else for them completely.
How do you feel about guests who tip less than 20 percent?
S3: I feel like those guests suck so much. I feel like they’re inconsiderate, like they don’t know what to tip — maybe no one ever told them that unless service is terrible, and I mean really, unforgivably, inexcusably bad, you always tip 20 percent — and they don’t know that my income is totally at their mercy.
S4: I think that they are old-school and/or have never worked in an industry in which you are tipped for your living. Twenty percent is standard. Even if you have a really terrible experience — if the food was terrible and the service was great, you still tip 20 percent. If the manager comped half your bill because the food was awful, you tip on what your original bill would have been, been because you still got excellent service. A lot of people tip the server based on the food and how fast it comes out, and I don’t think they realize that we have literally no control over that. It has to do with the kitchen and how busy it is that night. I think a lot of people want to have a really great dining experience, but they don’t know how to be taken care of sometimes.
What is the best night of the week to dine out with respect to getting the best service?
S3: I would say a weeknight. Fridays and Saturdays can get hectic — because reservations can get tight, so servers know when they need to flip a table to make room for the next guest. Pressure is always on the “show nights.” But Tuesday through Thursday, servers generally have more time to really get to know their guests and tailor the dining experience.
S4: I would say probably a Sunday or a Monday, just because it’s the beginning of the week, and it’s going to be slower than a weekend, you’re probably going to get better service and more attention. The food won’t be as rushed because the volume will be lower. And those nights are when industry folk go out, so it’s a much more relaxed vibe.
Do you treat your regulars better than occasional diners?
S2: Yes! They normally tip well, are easy and respectful. There’s no better feeling than when customers start asking the hostess to be seated in your section.
S3: I know my regulars, and I know what they like, so it’s easier to please them right off the bat. But it’s usually the goal to give every guest such a great experience that they end up becoming regulars.
Server 1 — fast-casual restaurant in Leawood, no longer serving
Server 2 — fast-casual restaurant on the Plaza, no longer serving
Server 3 — midlevel restaurant in Crossroads, high-end restaurant on the Plaza
Server 4 — high-end restaurants in Crossroads, Plaza
Server 5 — neighborhood restaurant in Brookside, midlevel restaurant in Crossroads
Note: The state-mandated hourly salary for tipped employees is $3.825 in Missouri and $2.13 in Kansas.