Sunday brunch, aside from its cherished tradition of consuming a Bloody Mary or three with good friends, can also be the adult version of the child’s modern-day play date.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
You’ve probably been there — that weekend moment spent socializing with casual acquaintances, trying to recreate camaraderie encountered during a boozy, magical dinner party.
Or maybe Sunday brunch is used to fulfill one of those standard we’ve-got-to-get-together greetings exchanged when bumping into a former college classmate in Trader Joe’s frozen section.
But always — and I repeat that with italics — always the centerpiece of brunch should be good drink and food so if conversation falls short of lively repartee, at least a blood orange Champagne cocktail and a well-executed eggs Benedict will rescue you.
Last Sunday I wandered from south Johnson County to the lovely, sexy environs of The Ambassador Hotel at 1111 Grand Blvd. Although I was meeting neither good friends or passing acquaintances, I was prepared for a brunch encounter of the fabulous kind.
My reservation for one — moi — and the guaranteed company of the property’s new executive chef, young Irishman Shaun Brady, piqued my anticipation of a leisurely dining experience.
Before taking my seat in the hotel’s intimate and well-appointed dining room, The Reserve, I enjoyed an inedible amuse bouche — The Ambassador’s interior eye candy.
For those uninitiated to The Ambassador’s hedonistic pleasures, take note. It’s a plush, contemporary, well-conceived boutique hotel in a lovingly renovated landmark in downtown’s Central Business District. One of those places to play tourist in your own city — I’ve done it and believe me, I didn’t want to leave my cushy room the entire weekend, even though I had a date to see Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde perform improv at The Midland.
The lobby evokes a set from a smart Hollywood movie starring Daniel Craig and you could swear a “Sex and the City” scene was filmed here and that perhaps Carrie Bradshaw is still lounging in one of the oversized white leather chairs, Cosmopolitan in hand, Manolo Blahnik-clad feet barely touching the gleaming marble floor, waiting for Mr. Big.
Entering The Reserve, just inside the lobby and lounge area of the hotel, a server ushers me to my table, fills my cup with The Roasterie house blend and delivers a fresh fruit bowl.
As I luxuriate in sipping the steaming brew, surveying the room, munching on fruit and enjoying the music mix overhead, Chef Brady approaches.
“Hello,” he said, a wide grin lighting up his boyish face and crinkling his eyes, a thick Irish brogue hanging in the air. “Welcome.”
Brady moved from Chicago to Overland Park in May with his wife, Wichita-born Kate (the two met while she was traveling in Ireland and married in 2005) and 2-year-old son Seamus.
“We had a kid and our priorities changed — we wanted to move nearer to Kate’s family and to a place with outdoor space and a good education system,” said Brady, who admits a chef’s life typically defined by brutally long days is a curse and an Irish blessing.
“What I do for a living — it’s a lifestyle, not just a job. We wanted to be in a place where we felt comfortable with the demands of my career and raising Seamus.”
Well into his third month of unpacking boxes at home and directing The Ambassador’s culinary activities, Brady is excited about Kansas City’s pulsating food scene fueled by creative chefs.
“I’ve been to farmers markets in different parts of the city to see what is trucked in,” said Brady. “Wow.”
Brady worked for seven years in the Windy City in top steakhouses, McCormick & Schmick’s, the trendy Luxbar and in Scylla, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s debut restaurant that was the toast of the town and the national press.
Brady has been a chef for 17 years — he’s 33 and left home at 16 to satisfy an itch for cooking and wanderlust.
“I didn’t tell my mum until two nights before I was to be in Dublin for my first cooking job that I was leaving,” said Brady. “She didn’t want me cooking for a living. She was single, raising my two sisters and little brother and me. She worked in grocery stores and served and bartended in restaurants — she didn’t think it was much of a life.”
Brady, who now has his mum’s wholehearted support, has been behind stoves in Dublin, in Asia — “I bounced around Thailand for six weeks” — in cities large and small throughout Europe, more often than not getting hired on the fly.
“I traveled to a city and looked in the classifieds or talked to people in a bar,” said Brady. “That’s how I got a lot of my jobs early on — sometimes telling the owner I would work for free for a couple of weeks, just so they could see my work ethic and talent.”
Turns out Brady carries an unofficial good luck charm in his wallet.
“It was my grandmother’s,” he said as he pulled out the pre-Euro currency, twirling it in his fingers. “Found it in one of her purses when my mum and I were cleaning after she passed. I always have it. I have walked miles instead of taking the bus before — I will never use this coin.”
I suggested that perhaps the cherished coin could be part of Brady’s lucky track record for landing the right job at the right time.
“Maybe,” he shrugged, and then offered full disclosure. “I don’t believe in luck as much as hard work.”
But Brady’s obvious culinary talent wins out over any notion of mythical luck with the arrival of my brunch feast.
Plump salmon cakes with a local micro-greens salad, house-made flatbread a la a deconstructed Benedict topped with smoked salmon, capers, onions, poached egg, arugula and hollandaise, and a wild mushroom frittata with roasted potatoes and hearty slices of Farm To Market grain bread slathered with butter.
Brady looks forward to adding his flourish to The Reserve’s menu, including his grandmother’s recipes for traditional Irish soda breads and scones and a corned beef hash.
Seafood, a personal favorite of Brady’s, will appear regularly and he can’t wait to have his Irish way with a Kansas City steak.
“Thing is, I’m here in the Midwest, and I want to use indigenous ingredients and products,” said Brady. “That’s important to me.”
I remind him that fresh seafood isn’t a commodity hailing from landlocked Kansas City.
“Seafood can be flown in from anywhere,” he countered.
Brady has already dipped his toes in collaborative waters with Kansas City food artisans, hosting a sold-out dinner with The Roasterie and Farm To Market bread earlier in August. He developed a menu that featured a signature dish of mussels in a Farm To Market bread bowl and a trio of chocolate desserts spiked with The Roasterie coffee.
“I presented dessert in The Roasterie’s lunchboxes,” said Brady. “A whimsical touch.”
Guests at The Reserve can enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour, late night and brunch with an attention to detail that is simply one more adornment of the hotel’s commitment to excellence.
And as far as Brady assuming the helm of The Reserve at this moment in the young restaurant’s history — well, it’s definitely the luck o’ the Irish for Kansas City.
As I leave my Sunday brunch cocoon, Chef Brady encourages me to bring friends next time.
My guest list was planned before I finished the frittata, but today I enjoyed my solo meal — and a little Irish with my coffee.
Chef Shaun Brady, who grew up in Tipperary, about 100 miles south of Dublin, loves mussels and good bread—and adores combining the two in this signature dish.
“I always like sopping up the sauce from mussels with good bread—and I never have enough bread. So I developed this recipe for a recent collaboration dinner with Farm To Market and The Roasterie, using bread bowls from FTM.”
Now Brady can have his mussels — and plenty of bread, too.
Mussels in a Bread Bowl
Makes 6 to 12 servings
3/4 pounds of mussels
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon shallots, small dice
1/4 cup white wine
1-1/2 cups shrimp stock (recipe below)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
8-ounce bread bowl, one for each guest
Heat a large saute pan on high heat until it starts to smoke. Add mussels, garlic, shallots and white wine and cook until all mussels have opened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add shrimp stock and cook for about 2 more minutes. Add cream and chopped parsley and reduce by about half.
Cut the top off the bread bowl and scoop out the center of the bread to make a bowl. Place in 350 degree oven for a couple of minutes to heat the bread.
Place bread in a large pasta bowl and fill the bread bowl with the mussels. Spoon the sauce around the bread.
Makes 6 to 12 servings
2 ounces unsalted butter
1 ounce olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, small dice
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup raw shrimp, shells off
2 tablespoon shrimp paste (Can be found at most Asian markets)
2 teaspoon tomato paste
1 cup white wine
4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon salt
In a saucepan add butter and oil and saute vegetables for a few minutes. Add the shrimp and shrimp paste and tomato paste and cook for about 1 minute. Add white wine and reduce by half. Add water, salt and peppercorns and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Strain the stock.
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.