Chef of the Year: Calvin Davis of Freshwater
If 2018 belongs to anyone, it's Calvin Davis; the chef and owner of Freshwater.
Photo courtesy of Zach Bauman
In May, the young chef reopened his dream restaurant, Freshwater, at 3711 Summit Street — just off the busy intersection of 39th Street and Southwest Trafficway in Midtown, Kansas City. The space is small — just 2,000 square feet — but very cozy. The sturdy oak bar is hand-carved, and a chef’s table offers diners an intimate view of the kitchen. The main dining room has the ease of a bright country cottage.
You’d never know that in June of last year, after only three months in operation, Freshwater was forced to close when a drunk driver crashed into the restaurant at this same location, destroying the dining area.
That accident broke Davis’ heart. A family friend offered him a retreat: a gig as the executive chef of a new restaurant called Revival inside the historic Hotel Frederick in Boonville, Missouri. Davis took the time to refocus his creative energy — and get a game plan together for Freshwater’s own revival.
Diners who were fortunate enough to visit the first iteration of Freshwater in 2017 should feel at home in the renovated space, which retains much of the original feel. Davis’ commitment to hyper-local ingredients extends to the bar, and his pricing strategy remains the same as when Freshwater first opened. He aims to make sustainable, farm-to-table fine dining and nose-to-tail eating available even to those on a modest budget. Almost all of his plates are under $20 and designed to share. A 10-course tasting menu is $55 with optional beverage pairings for $25.
In other words, the philosophy remains the same. Davis has rebuilt Freshwater from the ruins and kept its spirit alive. This would be cause enough for celebration, but Davis has managed something else in bringing Freshwater back from the dead: He has arrived with a renewed enthusiasm, and his food is better than ever.
The old Freshwater was heavy with vegetarian dishes. This time around, there’s a little more diversity on the menu (though veg-heads will still find plenty to delight in). Davis is adventurous; in the same night, you might sample pan-fried frog legs, gnocchi with a wild mushroom stroganoff, smoked trout mousse and seared duck breast. Because he works with local farmers in small quantities, the ingredients for his dishes change frequently — sometimes even over the course of an evening. The opportunity to showcase the region’s local products as cleanly and with as much respect for the process as he can, Davis says, is the real pleasure of cooking at Freshwater.
“I think we stand out because of our commitment to local sourcing and highlighting the ingredients,” he says. “We definitely aren't the only ones doing a good job of that in this community, but it speaks to the quality of the food we have here in the Midwest. For me, it’s about giving local producers more outlets for their products and showing our guests how much there is to love here.”