Jennifer Maloney, the exuberant chef of Cafe Sebastienne, died Christmas morning after a sudden illness that stunned Kansas City’s close-knit culinary and philanthropic community.
So many people rushed to be near her bedside after she went into the intensive care unit, Cafe Sebastienne general manager Tony Glamcevski said Monday, that a nurse at one point asked him: “Is she famous?”
Yes, she was. The 55-year-old chef had stirred customers’ palates at the cafe inside the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art for two decades — but that isn’t even her most enduring legacy.
“She loved with everything she had,” said her niece, Katie Maloney. “It was bigger than the cooking. Bigger than the professional success. She loved Kansas City.”
The cause of death is still unclear, her family said, but she was taken to the hospital early Friday morning with apparent breathing and heart problems.
Chefs and their supporters in the area all know each other well, said Josh Eans, chef at the Happy Gillis Cafe and Columbus Park Ramen Shop in Kansas City. They often joined with Maloney at some of her favorite charity events.
“She’s always laughing,” Eans said, remembering last summer’s latest cookout for the Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired in Kansas City. “Always happy and full of life.”
The lines of people who came to be together with her immediate and vastly extended family at North Kansas City Hospital “was overwhelming,” Glamcevski said. “They came from all walks of life.”
Maloney grew up in Kansas City and was working in restaurants as early as age 14 as a “salad girl” for The American Restaurant in Crown Center, her niece said.
There was time spent as a line cook in California, then the adventure of training with chefs in Italy, working a charter cruise ship in the Caribbean, and then working at the Milano before going to the Kemper.
“She is the rock that held our family together,” Katie Maloney said.
Jennifer Maloney is survived by her husband, Richard, a brother, sister-in-law and two nieces. Funeral services are pending.
Cafe Sebastienne, which had closed early Friday, will be reopening as scheduled Tuesday.