Chef Rachel Rinas is an avid snacker and a world traveler: “I enjoy eating a little bit of this, and a little bit of that,” she says.
Rinas’ travels have provided the perfect segue for her first restaurant, Karbón, a combination of Mexican antojitos and Middle Eastern mezze.
“It’s where my tastes naturally go,” she says, noting both words refer to small bites, snacks or appetizers.
Karbón is part of Parlor, a contemporary food hall at 1707 Locust St. The second-floor restaurant offers a “fire-kissed” menu that includes Yucatan-style cochinita pibil ribs (citrus-marinated, achiote-rubbed pork roasted in a banana leaf), picadillo empanadas with curtido (cabbage slaw), mole fried wings and Turkish pizzas (flatbreads topped with minced lamb, salad and choice of dips).
Rinas grew up in Raytown. She attended Johnson County Community College’s culinary program, where she discovered she was less interested in mastering classical French techniques than in exploring world cuisines. Her resume includes stints at Indian Hills Country Club, The Local Pig, SoT and Jarocho Authentic Mexican Seafood.
Her recipe for coffee-rubbed skirt steak pairs bright, herby Argentinian chimichurri with soft banana polenta, a unique and comforting twist on the dish that transports her back to the breakfast bars she ate at during a trip to Jamaica.
COFFEE-RUBBED SKIRT STEAK WITH ROASTED BANANA POLENTA AND MINT CHIMICHURRI
MAKES 2 SERVINGS
For the steak:
¼ cup finely ground coffee (the darker the roast, the better)
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pound skirt steak
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
For the chimichurri:
2 tablespoons minced red onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
½ cup chopped parsley, about ½ bunch
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the polenta:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 very ripe banana, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup polenta
For the steak: Mix coffee, chili powder and salt in a small bowl. Coat steak with 2 tablespoons of the rub. Let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over high heat. Add oil to the pan; when it begins to smoke, place steak into the oil, sweeping meat away from your body. Turn the heat to medium-high and sear for 3 minutes. When a nice crust has formed on one side, turn over the steak and cook for another 2-3 minutes. After cooking, let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
For the chimichurri: Mix onion, garlic, vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt in a bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Add in chopped mint and parsley and stir in olive oil until the herbs are mostly submerged.
For the polenta: Melt the butter over low heat in a wide saucepan. Place the banana halves cut side down and cook over low heat until caramelized; flip the bananas and repeat. When bananas are browned, add coconut milk and chicken stock. Bring mixture to a boil, then add salt and polenta. Cook polenta over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until cooked through, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
To serve: Spoon the soft polenta into the middle of a plate, place sliced steak over the top and garnish with chimichurri.
Avoiding the F-word
Cultural appropriation of the culinary kind can be hard to define. Like pornography, you know it when you see it, says Karbón chef Rachel Rinas, who also has a degree in philosophy from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
In the 1970s, cross-cultural mashups such as Wolfgang Puck’s famous smoked salmon-caviar-crème fraiche pizza or wasabi mashed potatoes were referred to as “fusion” cuisine. But “the scientific process of fusion requires a lot of pressure and heat,” Rinas says. She adds food “shouldn’t be pressed or forced. It should make sense.”
Finding words to describe the type of menu Rinas is creating for Parlor has been tricky. She likes “melting pot” because “the kitchen table is that first place we can meet in the middle.”
For chefs venturing outside of their native cuisines, she says it’s important to “pay attention to detail and think about the context, then learn from people who grew out of that tradition.”
While Rinas is comfortable working with ingredients, flavors and techniques that are not her own, she recognizes that certain words and images have cultural significance. That’s one reason why she chose to make up a name for her restaurant.
Jill Silva is a James Beard Award-Winning writer and editor and Kansas City Star alum.