There are those dream teams of the culinary world that, during their collaboration, affect something of a perfect storm in the kitchen. In Kansas City, I can think of a two such collaborations. There were Debbie Gold and Michael Smith, who first worked together at The American Restaurant in the late ’90s. After winning the James Beard Award together, they opened 40 Sardines (which, sadly, closed last month), where they changed the way Kansas Citians approached and appreciated food. The other team is Colby and Megan Garrelts. They picked up where Gold and Smith left on, advancing Kansas City’s fine dining to a different plane with their cozy Westport 60-seater, bluestem, one of my favorite restaurants.
In addition to the contribution these chefs made to our city’s culinary rise journey, they’ve trained a corps of young chefs who are fast becoming the vanguard of Kansas City cuisine. John McClure, now owner and executive chef at Starker’s Restaurant (formerly, Starker’s Reserve), worked under Gold and Smith at both The American Restaurant and at 40 Sardines. David Crum also cooked under Gold and Smith at The American Restaurant. He also served as Colby Garrelts’ right hand man at bluestem for nearly four years. He left bluestem three months ago to partner with McClure, assuming the role of chef de cuisine at Starker’s Restaurant. Ted Habiger also trained under the Gold and Smith 40 Sardines. He’s now the proud owner and executive chef of Room 39 – both the original one on 39th street in Midtown and the one at Mission Farms down south.
And, then there’s young Joe West. All of 22 years-old, he’s been in and out of kitchens all of his life. He, too, worked briefly at 40 Sardines, and then at bluestem as garde manger. After finishing his studies at the Johnson and Wales Culinary School in Denver late 2007, he re-joined bluestem as sous chef pastry under Megan Garrelts. There, his creative collaboration churned out some stunningly creative and memorable desserts.
I just received word that West will be leaving bluestem on May 10 to become (surely the youngest ever) Executive Chef of Delaware Cafe in the city’s River Market area. For years, it’s been largely a lunch spot (I’m not sure that it served dinner): simple salads and sandwiches (and, from what I’ve heard, some of the best fries – they’re pre-fab fries, which is why they’re so good). The restaurant (and its website) is currently undergoing a “face lift.” From what I understand, so is the menu. Under Chef West, the dinner menu will feature something along the lines of local, fresh, seasonal and simple. I imagine a little bit of Justus Drugstore crossed with Room 30 and a dash of 40 Sardines.
I’ll miss those lavender baked Alaskas and apple pies with black truffle ice cream at bluestem. But, I wish Mr. West the best of luck at Delaware Cafe and look forward to enjoying his creations there later this year.