When Kyle Williams took over as executive chef of Live Blue Café at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City in 2014, he ripped out the deep-fat fryers and set to work creating a menu of fresh vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins from local ranches.
“I came in with all-healthy (food). It was too much shock for the Midwest. I had to find the balance,” he says, pointing to a menu board featuring smothered tater tots. “Friday is about comfort food. You gotta have it. It’s all about balance — you can’t eat healthy every day.”
His unique recipe for “faux-mato” sauce was inspired by his own painful bout with acid reflux. When his doctor suggested he could take a pill to curb the uncomfortable burning sensation, Williams began researching pH-balanced alkaline diets.
“I actually do believe in the healing properties of food,” says Williams, whose culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island included nutrition training. “This recipe is good for someone trying to get away from a high-acid diet… and it ties into what we do. I want people to feel good when they eat.”
The recipe also checks the boxes of gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free and is very low-carb.
Savor & Swirl pop-up dinners
After graduating from Raytown South High School in 2002, Kyle Williams moved to the Big Apple and spent the next 14 years working 14- to 16-hour days, six days a week for top chefs such as Todd English, David Burke and Daniel Boulud.
“New York was engaging, but it definitely took its toll,” he says.
When he returned to Kansas City, Williams wanted to focus on his wife Hannah and daughters Vivi, 7, and Coco, 5.
In 2017, Williams took a trip to France and came back eager to try making his own wine. He purchased two pallets of grapes and stomped them with his daughters in the backyard. He aged the wine in glass barrels with chunks of French oak, allowing the wild yeast to do its magic. In a few years, he’ll know what he’s got.
In the meantime, Williams and his wife are launching Savor & Swirl pop-up dinners focused on pairing his food with rare, aged wines — all without breaking the bank.
“My passion is to be able to share wines at an affordable price,” he says.
The dinners will be scheduled once a quarter at a location that remains undisclosed until the eve of the event. Tickets will range from $79 to $120. Look for more information on Instagram (@savorandswirl) or send email to email@example.com.
SEARED HALIBUT AND FAUX-MATO SAUCE
Makes 4 servings
½ cup peeled and cubed carrots
½ cup peeled and diced red beets
1 cup peeled and diced butternut squash
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons yellow onion, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, divided
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh or dry oregano
¼ cup fresh chopped basil
1 bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons garlic powder
6-7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar, to taste
1 cup canned artichokes hearts, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon yellow onion, diced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced (shiitakes, morels or button, or a mix)
2 cups asparagus, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (discard bottom 1-inch)
1 cup fresh shelled snap peas
2 cups fresh spinach
2 tablespoons white wine
4 (4-ounce) halibut filets, or other seasonal fish
Juice of ¼ fresh lemon
Optional garnishes: Dandelion greens, fresh lemon zest, lemon juice
For the sauce: In a 4-quart sauce pot, add carrots, beets, squash, celery, onion, 3 garlic cloves, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaf and garlic powder. Cover ingredients with 3 inches of water and bring to a simmer over low heat. When vegetables are tender, about 20-25 minutes, remove from heat. Discard bay leaf, strain and reserve cooking liquid.
In blender, puree vegetables with ½-1 cup cooking liquid; do not add more water or puree will turn runny. Blend mixture on high until the puree creates a vortex. Remove center of lid and drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil in a steady stream to emulsify. Add red wine vinegar. Turn blender off and season with salt, pepper and sugar.
For the fish and vegetables: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a greased baking sheet, drizzle artichokes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast artichokes for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.
In a saute pan with a lid, add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and place over high heat. Sauté remaining thinly sliced garlic clove, onions and mushrooms until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add asparagus, peas and spinach; continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Add white wine and 2 tablespoons water to deglaze pan. Allow liquid to reduce. When vegetables are bright green and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes, remove them from pan, strain any remaining moisture, and set aside.
In the saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over high heat. Season fish with salt and pepper then sear presentation side down (the side you want facing up when plated). Reduce heat to medium and cover with a lid. Cook for 5 minutes, remove lid and gently flip the fish over. If it is not fully cooked, add 1 tablespoon water, then replace lid to continue cooking. When fish is cooked through, re-season with salt, pepper and add lemon juice.
To serve: Spoon faux-tomato sauce on plate. Top with vegetables. Place fish on top of vegetables and spoon more sauce over all. Garnish as desired.