Whether you’ve always wanted to dine at the enchanting (some say haunted) Caenen Castle and never quite got around to it, or you’ve always been a fan of #sassychef’s decadent brioche French toast, it’s time to snag one last reservation.
Chef Renee Kelly of Renee Kelly’s Harvest will close the dining room after brunch on Sunday, Oct. 15.
The 110-year-old historic castle is located at 12401 Johson Drive in Shawnee. Since 2013 the hand-quarried limestone building has been a cozy home for Kelly’s popular farm-to-table restaurant.
Although the end is likely to be sad news for diners who champion her commitment to spotlight seasonal ingredients from local farms, Kelly is happy to be moving on to greener pastures. On Sept. 10, she made her debut as the host of “Harvest with Renee Kelly,” a 30-minute TV show that airs at 8:30 a.m. Sunday mornings on CW affiliate KCWE Channel 29.
“Basically, I’m concentrating on the show because it’s so invigorating and nourishing to go out and tell these farmers’ and chefs’ stories,” Kelly says.
Employees were notified on Saturday that the restaurant would be closing. Kelly has written letters of recommendation and plans to help her employees find new positions. Kelly’s parents, Roger and Nancy Neighbors, own Caenen Castle. For now, Kelly plans to continue to use the space as a hub for her show — possibly offering public cooking classes and events related to the show’s promotion.
The first season of production took Kelly out of the kitchen four to five days a week. Eighteen episodes of the show have been shot on farms and in restaurant kitchens as close as Kansas City and as far away as Manhattan, Kan.
The farm-focused shows take viewers into the fields of local Kansas and Missouri farms to see where their food is grown. Chef-focused shows offer a peek into how restaurant kitchens prepare farm-fresh dishes.
Last week’s “That’s My Farm” episode featured Michael Pearl of Pearl Family Farm. Pearl is a fifth-generation farmer. He works on the same farm started by his family in Platte County and grows 5 acres of vegetables, including potatoes, spinach and leeks. The farm is one of the oldest continuously producing African-American farms in the country.
This week’s show will feature Kyle Williams, executive chef of Blue Cross Blue Shield. Upcoming guests include Vaughn Good of Hank Charcuterie, T.K. Peterson of Merchants Pub & Plate, Carlos Falcon of Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos and Hunter Allen Blair of Shadow Glen The Golf Club.
For the bubbly, upbeat redhead who uses the hashtag #sassychef on social media, the transition to TV show host is a natural one. Kelly has become a contributor to local TV morning shows. She has also contributed to The Star’s Chow Town blog. (Watch for an upcoming Chow Town Facebook Live featuring Kelly at Lifted Spirits on Oct. 18.)
“I will always love cooking, but this is a really great fork in the road,” she says
Kelly got her first taste of TV when she was tapped for Bravo’s “Top Chef” in 2015. While she didn’t exactly wilt on the high-pressure set, she definitely didn’t thrive. She calls it one of life’s “2-by-4 moments.”
“It was a very intense, high-pressure situation and it just wasn’t for me at all,” she says. “I didn’t realize how I created menus. … I tend to go in the garden and walk around, and write and draw. On the show, you’ve got two hours to create, shop and make a dish. That’s just not in my DNA.”
But the exposure led several production companies to approach her about hosting a food or cooking show. Nothing was the right fit until the Kansas Farm Bureau introduced Kelly to a producer who wanted to create a show to support Kansas agriculture.
In addition to Kelly’s outgoing on-screen presence, owning her own farm-to-table restaurant has given her insight into the great — and often contentious — debates revolving around the American food system, from conventional and organic agriculture to the use of GMO seed and growth hormones.
“I know a little more to make me a a little less dangerous than 10 years ago,” she says with a laugh. “There’s so much misinformation that it’s really hard to trust, and there is a lot of emotion around food. … The only way to get to the root of that is to have disarmed conversations — whether it’s with Monsanto or an organic farmer.”
If that sounds too heavy for a Sunday morning, not to worry. Kelly says her goal is to provide a “blend of education and entertainment” that let’s her self-described “funny” and “quirky” personality shine through.
She says she was trying to “reign in” her exuberant personality in the early episodes, then one day she started singing and dancing at the mention of Purple Majesty potatoes. Her crew has encouraged her to be herself in her new hosting role.
Wherever this fork in the road winds up taking her, Kelly says, “I hope that it’s a really great adventure and I get to be telling stories no matter what.”