Aaron Confessori’s Westport Cafe has been a hit since he opened the sleek French bistro six years ago. But any concept can get stale after that length of time, he says.
So when a couple of Frenchmen walked in the door a few months ago looking for an ownership possibility, everything felt right. Confessori’s original partner was ready to move on to other projects, and Kevin Mouhot and Romain Monnoyeur offered experience and fresh ideas.
Monnoyeur, a chef from Lons-le-Saunier in the Jura region in eastern France, near Switzerland, interned at Café des Amis in Parkville four years ago before accepting a job cooking at Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla.
Confessori says Kansas City’s booming restaurant scene is attracting a lot of skilled kitchen and front-of-house talent from the rest of the country because of the lower cost of living, plentiful housing and ease of transportation.
Monnoyeur is currently learning his way around the kitchen and menu at Westport Cafe. He expects to develop his own menu this summer in response to available fresh products.
His vision is to serve dishes from his region and family favorites his grandmother taught him. In a city like Kansas City with only a handful of French restaurants, he explains, there are many regional specialties local diners haven’t experienced yet.
So French influences will be deepened under Monnoyeur, but strict authenticity is not Confessori’s goal.
He wants to let Monnoyeur put a creative spin on classic fare, while adapting dishes as needed to local tastes. He cites Salade Niçoise as an example of a case where local palates do not appreciate the traditional French use of canned tuna, preferring seared ahi tuna instead — an innovation that causes Monnoyeur to shake his head and smile.
When Monnoyeur does an interpretation of duck a l’orange, perhaps using an orange/carrot puree, Confessori says it won’t be called by its classic name. Francophiles will be left to make the connection on their own by the presence of brandy and orange.
The service experience will be re-energized as well, Confessori says.
Mouhot, raised in Besançon near Monnoyeur’s hometown, will take over the front of the restaurant.
He wants to introduce flambage, where dishes are flambéed tableside, and decant fine wines to serve by the glass.