Chow Town

Bluestem‘s Colby Garrelts wins James Beard Award as Midwest’s best chef

Updated: 2013-05-07T14:53:43Z

By JILL SILVA

The Kansas City Star

Seven is chef Colby Garrelts’ lucky number.

Champagne corks popped simultaneously in New York City and Kansas City as Garrelts — who owns Bluestem and Rye with his wife/pastry chef Megan Garrelts — celebrated his first James Beard win as Best Chef of the Midwest.

The annual James Beard awards gala held Monday night at Lincoln Center is the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscars. The red carpet crowd included such legendary name-brand chefs as Jacques Pepin, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse.

It was Garrelts’ seventh nomination, but he was not the only chef to have waited in the wings for his turn in the spotlight. Wylie Dufresne of wd-50 in Manhattan also had been nominated seven times. This year he, too, got lucky when he was named Best Chef of New York City.

“I actually thought it was unattainable,” Garrelts said by telephone before the ceremony was over, as congratulatory tweets, Facebook posts and texts piled up. “When you know the feeling of losing better than winning ... I’m just ecstatic! It feels like we have finally made it.”

Garrelts kept his acceptance speech brief, reading from notes to thank his present and former sous chefs and management team by name.

He also brought Megan onstage with him to accept the award.

The couple was joking around on their Facebook page earlier in the night that they were headed to “prom.” He wore a tux and a tie Megan gave him to wear at the first awards. “To bring him luck,” she said.

She wore an over-the-shoulder black dress and stunning silver stiletto heels which made her noticeably taller than he. “I’m down with that,” Colby said. “She’s a powerful, powerful woman.”

But more to the point, he said, he brought her onstage because they are partners in everything they do.

“Everyone always wants to talk to me, but I always say, talk to her. It’s both of us,” Colby said.

Said Megan: “He told me from the beginning he would take me up on stage with him. I’m so proud of him.”

Garrelts is the fourth Kansas City chef to bring home the coveted medallion. Debbie Gold, Michael Smith and Celina Tio each won the honor while executive chef at the American Restaurant.

Garrelts is a Kansas native. He studied at Johnson County Community College, and his first job was in the kitchen of the old Stolen Grill which, coincidentally was just one door down from today’s Bluestem.

Colby left Kansas City to cook in other kitchens but returned several years later with Megan to open Bluestem in 2004, an upscale fine dining establishment in Westport. Last year they released a coffeetable cookbook of the restaurant’s stunning food.

Over the winter the couple opened Rye, a more casual eatery in Leawood serving spiffed-up Midwestern comfort foods such as deviled eggs, fried chicken, barbecue ribs and strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Other Midwest chef nominees included St. Louis restaurateur Gerard Craft of Niche, Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee and Michelle Gayer of Salty & Tart and Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar, both of Minneapolis.

To reach Jill Silva, call 816-234-4395 or send email to jsilva@kcstar.com. Find her on Twitter at @chowtownkc.

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