Who says a food truck can’t catapult a chef to fine dining fame?
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
Just days after she returned from a whirlwind taping of “Chef Wanted” hosted by Anne Burrell (scheduled to air on the Food Network in July), Good You’s Kelli Daniels landed a brand-new gig as the executive chef/food and beverage director at the historic Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs.
If you haven’t followed the street beat, Good You was one of the first of a new breed of gourmet food trucks to hit the streets three years ago. Mindful of the need to expand her brand, Daniels deftly made the transition from street vending to event catering to food and menu consulting for local bars.
Aside from 90-hour weeks, life was rolling along. But Daniels, 33, jumped at the opportunity to refocus the culinary aspirations of the 125-year-old historic resort, which has seen high chef turnover in recent years. She was offered the job on a Thursday and started the next Monday.
In her new post, Daniels oversees the Tavern, 88 at the Elms and the hotel’s cafe, as well as room service and a spa menu. She’s eager to put her stamp on the food and she has set her sights on a AAA Four Diamond Award.
“From the scones to the scallops, we’re going to deliver excellence across the board,” she says.
Less than a week into her new job, Daniels is interviewing for her new sous chef and reworking the menu to incorporate more local and seasonal ingredients.
She has access to an on-site garden for mache, Swiss chard and a variety of herbs and plans to buy local meats whenever possible. She inherits a well-stocked wine cellar. She has signed on Farm to Market breads, allowing the resort’s two pastry chefs to refocus their efforts on specialty items for the cafe.
She will also move away from room service as a delivery system and institute a more luxurious and pampering in-room dining program.
“It’s a playground,” she says of the resort, which just underwent a 17-month, $20 million renovation.
After embracing the limits of a food truck and refusing her customers’ special requests, Daniels is ready to draw on her previous Hyatt training and get back to providing have-it-your-way service.
For instance, when guests from Scotland asked if she could prepare pancakes at 9 p.m., she decided their wish was her command.
“It’s different from the bravado that was a food truck,” she says. “When you’re in the hospitality business, the answer is always yes.”
Daniels insists that’s the kind of gold-star service necessary to establish yourself as a destination dining spot. She admits her food truck fans might find her career shift abrupt but says moving up was just part of her business plan.
“I always thought the food truck would be a stepping-stone for me,” she says, “but it will be bittersweet to let Good You go.”
Daniels plans to honor her private catering commitments booked through September then put her food truck business up for sale (send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org). She is selling the Good You brand, along with her signature burgers, which were widely considered among the best in the city. She will, however, take her grandma’s deviled eggs (most recently served at the Point) with her.
“They go to every venue,” she says.
Flora Daniels’ Original Deviled Eggs
Makes 1 dozen eggs
1 dozen large eggs
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise (preferrably Hellman's)
2 tablespoons chopped capers
2 tablespoons pickled okra
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped banana peppers
Toppings: smoked salmon, bacon fat, hot sauce and chives
Place eggs in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the eggs with an inch of liquid. Cook eggs gently (do not boil) on medium-low heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove eggs from the burner and place in bowl with plenty of ice. Wait until ice melts completely, then peel eggs with care. Set whites on a paper towel.
Place yolks, mustard and mayonnaise in a food processor. Add capers, okra, red onion, banana peppers and pulse to combine. Add a few tablespoons of water to the mixture and puree until smooth.
Place yolk mixture in a piping bag or plastic baggie with the tip snipped off, and pipe into hollowed whites.
Top with a fleck of smoked salmon and a drizzle of bacon fat, if desired, and a dot of hot sauce.
Per egg: 112 calories (73 percent from fat), 9 grams total fat (2 grams saturated), 214 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 161 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard Award-winning food editor and restaurant critic. She has won more than 25 national writing awards and been included in the “Best Food Writing” anthologies of 2008 and 2011. She is the author of The Star’s “Eating for Life” cookbook and a past president of the Association of Food Journalists. She also makes a mean flan.