As someone who lives north of the river, it seems I’m forever driving into the city or out to Johnson County to partake of the area’s amazing restaurants, culinary events, various festivals, and food and wine-themed charity events.
I’m not complaining. It’s just a fact of life. But what a pleasant surprise it was when I received an invitation to head the other direction, north of my Liberty home, to Kearney and the new Kearney Culinary Academy.
Yes, Kearney is home to a brand new culinary academy with some very ambitious goals.
“Wednesday nights will be our tapas night, open to the public — party nights with live music and great food and wine,” Carey Weir, the academy’s president, said. “Then, Thursday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons will be master classes focusing on a skill or cuisine. Friday and Saturday nights will be our chef demonstration dinners where we will host some of the best chefs around town, who will treat guests to amazing meals while walking them through the preparations of each course.”
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Weir has an impressive line-up of commitments early on: Johnathan Justice, Charles D’Ablaing, Carlos Falcon and Michael Foust, just to name a few.
And there’s more. Much more. The academy will sell baked goods every day created by Ashley Foy-Price, its executive pastry chef. There will also be prepared meals that you can pick up and carry out, classes for kids ages three and up, and during the school year, high school students interested in culinary arts can receive hands-on education. It’s a lot to bite off — pardon the pun — but Weir and her team seem eager to meet the challenges.
I asked Weir how the concept first started. “My friends and the owners of this plaza, Mike Wrenn and Becky Cole, called me up and said that the Mexican restaurant that was in the space before us was getting ready to move and they needed to put something in that spot. They asked me what I thought about putting a culinary school in here,” she said.
Weir didn’t think a culinary school was sustainable, but something with more diversity, tied into the community, its students and its families might have a shot at success. Wrenn and Cole agreed and some six months later the Kearney Culinary Academy had its soft opening and its first demonstration dinner with Debbie Gould, a James Beard award-winning chef. It was an amazing transition.
“When you’re a nagging wife and your husband’s the general contractor, things get done more quickly,” Weir told me with a smile and a laugh.
They certainly got done quickly. Now, Weir can turn her attention from getting the Academy opened to making it a success. On that front, Weir says she can’t wait.
“I haven’t been concerned that it’s going to be (successful) because there’s such a large community up here looking for something to do, and we have something for everybody,” Weir said.
To learn more, you can visit the always-evolving calendar at Kearney Culinary Academy’s website. I know I’ll be there a lot. Maybe I’ll see you there!
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.