“If you come from the dirt, you gotta go back,” Amante Domingo says of his meandering culinary path.
Domingo grew up on a 150-acre organic farm near St. Joseph. As a teenager, he worked at the vegetarian cafe on his family owned and sold surplus vegetables at the farmers market.
“We put everything into it,” he says — from harvesting the food to washing the dishes — yet the venture failed. Domingo studied art and worked as a commercial photographer before eventually wandering back to restaurants. He worked as a manager, not a cook, to supplement his income.
While working on a restaurant consulting project, he met Heather White, a transplanted Canadian who had a bakery background an an urge to do something entrepreneurial. Together they opened The Russell, a cozy breakfast and lunch spot in a former flower shop at 3141 Main St. in midtown Kansas City.
Domingo credits White with getting him back in the kitchen: “She really gave me a kick in the pants,” he says. “She said, ‘You are a cook.’”
Fire, knives and spoons
Heather White describes her business partner as “the ultimate Renaissance Man,” then disappears into the kitchen and returns with a knife he made as a gift for her. Domingo handcrafted the blade from a horse farrier’s file (she’s an equestrian).
The next year, he carved a Japanese-inspired saya (a type of sheath) from African zebrawood and embedded it with a Mercury dime.
It should come as no surprise that Domingo had a hand in designing The Russell’s open kitchen space, which features an Argentinian fire table, a custom wood-fired hearth. The chef uses it to cook vegetables, meats and even toast over live fire.
“The scariest part of cooking on a wood fire is there is no on and off switch,” Domingo says.
But this chef can handle the heat. When The Russell opened in early 2018, Domingo’s menu featured eight dishes. Within six months, the chef had tripled his offerings. The most popular salad on the menu? The Roasted Root Salad ($11) with a molasses vinaigrette.
“I love the heritage behind molasses,” he says. “It was the only sweetener we had growing up besides honey.”
THE RUSSELL’S ROASTED ROOT SALAD
Makes 6 servings
4 cups root vegetables (such as parsnips, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Coarse salt and pepper, to taste
Dressing (makes 4 cups)
1 cup molasses
1 cup apple cider vinegar (preferably Bragg’s)
1 cup brown sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup vegetable oil
4 cups arugula
Goat cheese, crumbled
Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel and chop all root vegetables into uniform size. Lightly toss roots in vegetable oil and season with coarse salt and pepper. Place vegetables on a baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes, or until fork-tender.
In a blender, add molasses, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper; pulse to combine. With the blender top on and the motor running, steadily pour the vegetable oil in a thin stream until the dressing emulsifies. (Note: This recipe makes at least 4 cups of dressing. Store extra dressing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week).
In a bowl, place roasted vegetables atop arugula and sprinkle with goat cheese and roasted pistachios. Add a drizzle of dressing to taste, toss and garnish with sprig of rosemary.