You’ve heard the question, “If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?” Well, for me that’s an easy question to answer: chef, author and Weber spokesman Jamie Purviance.
Let me explain. I’ve mentioned before that I lacked good cooking skills earlier in life. In fact, my passion for cooking initially came after learning how to cook over live fire. And the person that I credit for that is Purviance.
You see, when I decided that I wanted to cook over live fire daily, I needed some guidance. So I purchased my first cookbook, “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling.” The instructions were detailed, both in the recipes and the techniques used. I felt like I was taking an intense cooking course.
I later found out that Purviance was a classically trained chef, so those were the techniques I was learning through his book. That’s how Purviance became a mentor of sorts to me.
So when I received an email from Purviance asking whether Gay (my wife) and I would show him Kansas City barbecue and current barbecue trends as research for an upcoming book, well, of course I answered with a loud and resounding, “Yes!”
For his first visit to Kansas City, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t come off as just a cowtown or barbecue town. I wanted to share the rich culture that Kansas City has to offer as well.
For our first meeting, we rendezvoused at Joe’s Kansas City (the original location, in the gas station, of course), where we met with Doug Worgul and toured the production side of the operation. I’m still sort of in awe. We had lunch, and discussed barbecue and what it means to different people. As I’ve mentioned before, food and memories can have very strong ties, and the meaning of barbecue is no exception.
As we finished up, I decided I really didn’t want someone to view Kansas City from a taxi and a tour guide book, so we offered to drive Purviance around town during his two-day visit to get a more rounded appreciation of our city. He graciously agreed.
We went to the West Bottoms to see where the stockyards used to be, the American Royal barbecue contest is held (OK, used to be held) and, of course, the haunted houses. We discussed quite a bit of Kansas City history and how that was intertwined with the barbecue world.
From there we went to the East Bottoms, visited the Local Pig and discussed the trend of butcher shop revival. Then we started visiting some of the iconic BBQ places in town — Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Rosedale and more. Before we finished the first day, I suggested a couple of nonbarbecue restaurants for Purviance to try in the evening. Sure, he was here for the barbecue, but as you know, Kansas City has many talented chefs and incredible restaurants to try.
The next morning, even before we could exchange pleasantries, Purviance said, “Thanks for the tip of The Rieger.”
He’d had dinner there the night before. One of the reasons that I recommended The Rieger was to give him an example of how smoke is incorporated in fine dining in Kansas City, and not just at barbecue restaurants.
Back on the barbecue trail. We headed over to Kansas City, Kan., to be first in line at Slap’s BBQ for a sampling (nothing like meat sweats for breakfast) before touring the city’s areas of interest.
Next it was off to Q39 for more tastings and an interview with owner Rob Magee. It was fascinating to hear Magee’s view on full-service barbecue, as well as time, temperature and techniques for specific cuts of meat.
We continued our driving tour of greater Kansas City. We admired the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Southwest Boulevard, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Country Club Plaza, the fountains and more.
I don’t think he was expecting this level of culture here. Our conversations weaved in and out of competition teams opening barbecue places, chef-driven barbecue restaurants, the culture and diversity of Kansas City, as well as how Purviance — a Latin and economics major — eventually became a chef.
As we dropped Purviance off after that second day, I had to do the fan thing and asked him to sign two of my favorite Weber books. One was the first cookbook I ever purchased, “Weber’s Big Book of Grilling.”
“Wow, this looks really used,” Purviance commented. And it had been.
The other book was the first book he ever wrote, “The Art of the Grill.” I love that book because of the elevated dishes that are presented.
As he signed the books he thanked us for our hospitality.
“I’m so glad I had the two of you to show me around,” Purviance said. “I had no idea that Kansas City had so much to offer besides just barbecue.”
As we drove home, Gay and I couldn’t have been happier. I got to spend time with my mentor in my hometown of Kansas City. And yes, we do barbecue right here. But we have so much more to be proud of in this city. I love my hometown.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the grill mayor for Food Network in 2012 and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.