Chow Town

James Beard ‘Taste of America’ tour chooses Kansas City

Joe West of Stock Hill debuts the restaurant’s menu.
Joe West of Stock Hill debuts the restaurant’s menu.

Kansas City had another kind of James Beard win on Friday night.

Since 1999, Kansas City has had four Best Chef Midwest award winners: Debbie Gold, Michael Smith, Celina Tio and Colby Garrelts. For even longer, The American Restaurant has hosted annual dinners featuring some of the nation’s most impressive chefs as a way of raising money for the foundation’s culinary scholarships.

But earning a whistlestop on the “Taste America” — a 10-city tour billed as “a national epicurean tour” and designed to showcase the country’s hot food cities — is another kind of coup.

“For so long it’s been easy to overlook what’s happening in the Midwest. We were in a Coastal bubble,” says Gavin Kaysen, chef/owner of Spoon & Stable in Minneapolis and guest chef for the event.

The 2016 “Taste America” tour runs from Sept. 23 to Nov. 5 and includes benefit dinners in Los Angeles, Phoenix, New Orleans, Chicago, Portland, Ore., Minneapolis/St. Paul, Boston, Charleston and San Francisco.

The Kansas City event was the first to sell out.

“I think the James Beard Foundation is doing an awesome job of getting out of the big cities,” says Garrelts of Bluestem and Rye, who helped host the event along with Kaysen, pastry chef Nick Wesemann of the American Restaurant and Alejandro Diaz of the President Hotel’s Providence New American Kitchen.

Other Kansas City chefs featured as part of an hors d’oeuvre reception were Michael Corvino of Corvino Supper Club and Tasting Room due to open early 2017, Howard Hanna of The Rieger, Michael Smith of Michael Smith and Extra Virgin, Renee Kelly of Renee Kelly’s Harvest, Joe West of Stock Hill, an upscale steakhouse scheduled to open before the end of the year and Debbie Gold, formerly of The American and 40 Sardines.

The reception chefs and chef apprentices in the Johnson County Community College’s Hospitality Culinary Academy assisted plating the dinner.

While the foundation was in town, local chefs were invited to culinary lab workshops, including one on craft butchery for professionals and culinary demostrations for the public.

The James Beard Foundation was created in 1986 to honor the work of cookbook author and teacher James Beard, considered the dean of American cuisine. The foundation annually hands out what is widely considered the industry’s culinary Oscars.

But in recent years the organization has tried to move outside the glitz and glamor of the awards and work on issues that are shaping the culinary industry, ranging from school lunches and childhood obesity to antibiotics in the food supply to sustainable seafood to new ways to curb kitchen food waste.

“We want to be a part of the food community and be impactful,” Garrelts says. “I was very surprised and very encouraged by the turnout. Maybe (diners will) learn more about the organization, get involved and donate.”

Jill Wendholt Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead restaurant critic and blog curator. You can reach her on Twitter at @kcstarfood and @chowtownkc and on Instagram and Facebook as chowtownkc.