Chow Town

Food taster at Joe’s Kansas City might be best job in town

Chicken Z-Man with Fries
Chicken Z-Man with Fries Special to The Star

Everyone has ideas of what they want to be when they grow up when they’re a little kid: fireman, policeman, astronaut, horse trainer or veterinarian.

We all have those dreams. Then life happens. You go from Plan A to Plan B in your career. Some of us are on Plan E, if you know what I mean.

This brings me to a conversation I was having with friends the other night. “If you could have your dream job, right now, what would it be?” So I put it out on Facebook and here are some of the responses that I received.

▪ Organic subsistence farmer

▪ Food critic

▪ Recipe tester

▪ National Geographic photographer

▪ Fly the airplane for the National Geographic photographer

▪ Pitcher in the major leagues

▪ Grill instructor for Weber Grill and show people everything you can cook outside

▪ Selling coconuts under a palm tree on a beach in Aruba

▪ Be a night watchman for a vineyard in the hills on the West Side of Paso Robles

▪ A 1950s jazz musician. OK, a time traveler then.

▪ Owner of a shabby fry-shack on the Cape

▪ Michelin Guide restaurant inspector

As expected, a lot of the answers were food-related. It’s a common thread among my close friends.

When I was reading the flood of responses, it occurred to me: I know a guy that has what most people would consider their dream job. Especially If you’re a true-blooded Kansas Citian.

Technically, he’s the director of operations — a job that I can relate to. I had a similar position with a large retailer years ago. I went around from store to store, ensuring that everything was set just so: staffing was correct, the store looked clean and bright, product was stocked and faced correctly, among other things. I also watched to make sure that the customers were getting the experience they should in each location.

I met Steve Querrey several years ago. He’s unassuming, quick with a smile and an extremely friendly guy. In fact, the way that I met him was that he approached me.

“I’ve seen you in both of our locations several times,” Querrey said. “You are a great repeat customer, good to see you again.”

Wow, who gets that? I had noticed Querrey too, but really didn’t understand what his function was.

On another visit, I finally got the chance to ask him what he did. Downplaying his role, he said, “Oh me? I just taste the food to make sure it’s OK for you.”

Now, depending on where you work, that may not be such a great job. However, Querrey works at the world-famous Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, formerly Oklahoma Joe’s.

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Your job is to taste the food at Joe’s Kansas City?”

“Yep, I go from restaurant to restaurant (now three locations in all), to make sure that all of the food we prepare meets our standards,” he explained. “We want to ensure the customer gets a consistent experience not only from restaurant to restaurant, but also from day to day. We’re all about a consistent food product and experience for the customers.”

“So let me get this straight,” my wife, Gay, said. “Every day you go to each of the Joe’s Kansas City restaurants. You taste the ribs, the pulled pork, the brisket, the chicken, the turkey, and those great fries, the sausage and other stuff on the menu? That’s crazy. I want that job.”

She beat me to the punch. Actually, I want that job.

So what qualifies Querrey to be this connoisseur of barbecue tasting? Well, he has an extensive background in the restaurant industry. He worked for the Gilbert Robertson Co. back in the 1980s.

You might remember that they owned many Kansas City classics such Annie Santa Fe, Houlihan’s, Plaza III, Sam Wilson’s Meat Market, Fedora’s, Fred P. Otts and many others. After Gilbert Robertson, Querrey went to work for the PB&J Restaurant group. OK, so I guess he does know what he’s talking about.

“Now, this is not as easy as you think,” Querrey said. “I remember one day I was testing briskets and things just weren’t turning out right. After a while, it gets hard to be objective and taste. You have to have someone else try it.” (Note to Querrey — message me any time, and I’ll be there to help out.)

“And besides that, there’s more to the job than just eating,” he said.

He also does hiring and training managers and supervisors, employee development and reviews.

“I focus on more of the front-of-house operations” he said.

“In fact, a major part of what I do is employee-related. You see, even though we sell bbq, we’re really in the hospitality industry (taking a page out of Danny Meyer’s book, “Setting the Table”). Sure, we can make a great product, but in order to make sure the customer has a quality experience, we first focus on our employees. In order to deliver world class hospitality, it starts with how you treat your employees.”

In fact, Querrey talked quite a bit about how he loves being on the floor with the employees, helping to execute an exemplary customer experience.

“I love it when I see the employee smiling and the customer smiling. It just makes my day,” he said.

OK, so as with most dream jobs, when viewed from the outside, it may not be exactly what you think it is. But you have to admit, if you live if Kansas City, you still might want this job. At least for a month or so.

I was in Joe’s Kansas City’s Leawood location recently, watching my Z-Man and fries being prepared and taking in all of the wonderful barbeccue smells. Then I had this random thought flash through my mind: I wonder if Querrey needs an understudy? I could be that guy. After all, if it works on Broadway, it should work in barbecue too, right?

Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.