Love Thy Neighbor

As the owner of two area La Bodega tapas bistros, restaurateur JT Taylor knows a thing or two about entertaining with flair

My love of cooking began with my grandmother, Mary. We would spend many Saturday mornings watching The Galloping Gourmet, the cooking show with Graham Kerr which—looking back—seemed to be just as much about humor and libations as it was about actual cooking. There’s a photo of this future restaurateur in his apron, standing on a stool in his grandmother’s kitchen—with a huge mixing bowl in his hands—at the entrance of both of the La Bodega locations. Cooking has always been a huge part of my life.

There’s cooking at the restaurant and then there is cooking at home, which are completely distinctive, even though I’ll use similar recipes. With the last 17 years at La Bodega, there has been this frenetic pace that is just the nature of owning a restaurant. Coming home at the end of the day is relaxing, and cooking is a way for me to unwind. I’ve lived in my house for 20 years, and some of my neighbors have been here even longer. There’s really no better way to enjoy the company of friends and family than over homemade food—especially when you’re preparing your favorite dishes. So a lot of the time it’s leaning over the fence, saying “Hey want to come over?” They’ll grab some bottles of wine and I’ll make my go-to pork tenderloin dish with pear and smoked Gouda, or the fan fave—Paella Valenciana, which we also serve at the restaurant. Paella is such a great, traditional dish to put together for when company comes over because everyone can serve themselves. It is a communal experience.

The base of Paella Valencia uses traditional Calasparra rice, mixed with chicken, shrimp, PEI mussels, clams, chorizo, green beans and sofrito. In Spanish cuisine, a sofrito consists of garlic, onion, paprika, peppers and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil. Along with the paella, which I serve as the main course, I’ll make several tapas plates. Tapas are a go-to thing for me to make for get-togethers because they don’t take too long to put together, and guests can sample a lot of different tastes as opposed to having just one main dish. Tapas are even better during the summertime, though, because they are light and refreshing. Especially the Crudo de Atún, which is tuna tartare on sliced cucumbers, drizzled with lemon marmalade, red chile vinaigrette and lemon oil.

At the end of the day, there might not be such a difference between me and the Galloping Gourmet. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Just like Graham Kerr, not everything goes well in the kitchen, and laughter usually ensues—thus some galloping around. And it is at its most enjoyable in the company of friends, amid laughter, over some wine.

Crudo de Atun (Ahi Tuna Crudo)

Red Chile Vinaigrette:

ounces olive oil

ounces Champagne vinegar

1½ teaspoons paprika

teaspoon cayenne pepper

1½ teaspoons crushed red chile flakes

teaspoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl and place in refrigerator to chill.

Lemon Marmalade:

lemons, small dice

ounces sugar

ounce honey

ounce Champagne vinegar

teaspoons rosemary (finely minced)

teaspoon salt

Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let simmer until almost all of the liquid has cooked off, and then place on a plate and cool in the refrigerator.

ounces diced Ahi fresh tuna

1½ ounces red chile vinaigrette (see recipe)

cucumbers, thinly sliced on the bias

ounce lemon marmalade (see recipe)

Red amaranth micro greens for garnish

Lemon-infused olive oil

In a mixing bowl place the diced tuna and season with salt and pepper. Toss mixture with the red chile vinaigrette. Place in refrigerator to cool.

On a plate, arrange the cucumbers in a diagonal line, place a food mold on top of the cucumbers, fill the mold with the tuna mixture and give it a good press. Remove the mold and spoon the lemon marmalade on top of the tuna. Garnish with the red amaranth greens and drizzle with the oil. Serve and enjoy.


Pincho De Pollo

1½ ounces chicken breast

1½ ounces Chistorra chorizo

1½ ounces garlic cumin aioli

Pinch of parsley

Skewer the chicken and chorizo alternating one then the other, three pieces of each to a skewer. Grill the skewer until cooked through. Dress plate with aioli in three points from the bottom center. Put the skewers in the aioli and garnish with parsley.


Paella Valenciana

ounces Bilbao chorizo

ounces diced chicken breast

ounces sofrito (Find your favorite recipe online.)

ounces blanched green beans

ounces Calasparra rice

12 threads of saffron

cups vegetable stock

ounces white wine

each 16/20 count Black Tiger shrimp

each Littleneck clams

each Prince Edward Island mussels

Salt and pepper to taste

1½ teaspoons ground Spanish paprika

1½ teaspoons chopped parsley

thin slice lemon per serving, for garnish

In a paella pan, sear the chorizo and chicken until caramelized, then deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add the sofrito and green beans, toss until fully incorporated. Add the rice to the pan and stir to lightly toast. Add the saffron threads. Add the vegetable stock a little at a time and constantly stir.

Once all liquids have been added, turn down the heat and let slowly simmer, add the seafood and let it steam in the broth that is simmering. Season the whole dish with salt and pepper, and top with a dusting of paprika. Once the pan has begun to crust slightly, remove from heat, garnish with parsley and lemon slices. Serve and enjoy.


Salmon de Ahumado

1½ ounces smoked salmon

1½ blanched asparagus spears

1-3 sliced radishes

½ hard-boiled egg, diced

Micro-greens for garnish

½ ounce horseradish vinaigrette (your favorite recipe)

¼ tablespoon olive oil

Sprinkling of micro greens

On a rectangular plate, shingle the smoked salmon so it slightly overlaps. Pyramid the blanched asparagus spears across the top of the salmon. Sprinkle the diced hard-boiled egg over the salmon and the asparagus. Arrange the radish around the perimeter. Top with micro greens and drizzle with the horseradish vinaigrette.


SIDE DISH CK_TaylorJames_17_AL0615

Taylor began his restaurant career working as 14-year-old busboy at the Leawood Country Club. He was also a waiter and bartender while attending Kansas and Oklahoma Universities, where he studied architecture. “That degree helped with design and structural problem-solving in every restaurant I have built,” says Taylor. In 1993 he founded and operated KC Hopps, opening 75th Street Brewery, River Market Brewery and Main Street Brewery. In 2001 Taylor opened re:Verse and The Red Room on the Country Club Plaza as well as La Bodega, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant with two locations, the ‘Originale’ on the Boulevard and a second location in Leawood.