RIP John McClure

Chef John McClureNews broke today that Executive Chef John McClure, owner of Starker’s Restaurant, passed away. While few details are available at this moment, many people throughout Kansas City are expressing their love, sadness, shock, disbelief and grief via Facebook. This loss hurts a lot because John was loved by so many. He had a big heart and appetite for life. He was loud, funny, benevolent and worked his tail off not only to successfully operate Starker’s, but also to launch his upcoming venture Barrio in Westport.

With so much talent and drive, his death is a cruel reminder that life is too short.

Briefly, I’ll share my most recent memory of John although I have many. Pam Taylor and I pulled into the parking lot of Le Fou Frog a couple of months ago. As we strolled across the parking lot, John pulled in, got out of his car, and gave us big hugs with a smile to boot.

Pam and I sat in the lounge where we were close to the staff, or family as we think of them, the kitchen, and the bar. John sat at the bar. Full of gusto, he ate, drank, and shared his thoughts with Mano Rafael, chef and owner of Le Fou Frog, and anyone within earshot. He was naughty and nice, laughing like a fiend and enjoying the moment. We chatted about Barrio and small talk.

Before he left, he wrapped me up in a warm bear hug. The wine he drank was a powerful cologne. Sincerely, he said to me, “I have much respect for you, man. You’ve worked in a kitchen. You know what it’s like. You write and tell it like it is.”

And then he was gone.

Telling it like it is – that works for you and against you. I’ve learned that in the past and present. I’ve grown from both the tough lessons and passion of Mano to the big-hearted honesty of John McClure at his Crawfish Fiestas, culinary events around town, and this one last memorable night.

Sometimes you don’t get to say goodbye in person. You don’t get to say, “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” or “I love you.” John’s exit from Life’s Kitchen reminds me of the sudden, unexpected death of Lauren Chapin, The Star’s restaurant critic. Both losses came too soon.

You pick up the pieces. Take stock. Try to make sense of it all and realize life doesn’t make sense. You do the best you can each day and move forward until your time comes.

You are missed already, Big Country. Rest in peace.


John McClure Memorial – Monday, Oct. 24, 7 PM onward. record Bar. 1020 Westport Road.


4 responses to “RIP John McClure”

  1. John Martellaro Avatar
    John Martellaro

    Good job, Pete. These are the hardest pieces to write. Thanks for doing this.

  2. Thanks for this piece. All of our thoughts are with his family and coworkers.

  3. Joseph Fulgenzi Avatar
    Joseph Fulgenzi

    Pete your words are so true to how so many of us felt about this wonderful man and who are we to, but celebrate his life while he was here to grant us his presents.

  4. This was a great tribute and nicely written. We didn’t know John as a personal friend, but Starker’s was our favorite restaurant. He would always great us with a friendly smile, and many times stop by the table to see how we were doing. John didn’t know us, but we always felt like he recognized us each time we visited. Starker’s is our “special” restaurant and we go there for every celebration we can (birthdays, anniversaries, for fun, etc), and I’m sorry for the loss John’s staff will feel.

    My favorite story about John is from my wife’s perspective. My wife likes steak. Plain and simple. She also likes it prepared well done but NOT burned. I know that steak aficionados will freak out at that statement, as most restaurants and steakhouses can’t cook a well done steak. We’ve gone to them all, Capital Grill, Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s (when it was here), and many others. Every single time my wife orders a well done steak it would arrive not well done or as a charcoal briquette. If we did send it back for being undercooked it would soon return as a dried clump of scorched meat.

    I remember the first time my wife ordered the filet at Starker’s as her hopes were never high in the steak department. I ordered mine as medium and she ordered her usual. The steak arrived a bit later, my wife made the first cut, and it was PERFECT. Not only was it well done, it was juicy and not a dried briquette. We were amazed. We had a wonderful dinner and vowed to return many times, which we did.

    Around our third visit John had come to our table to ask us if everything was great. It was then my wife asked him how he and his chefs could prepare a well done filet perfectly every single time without burning or having to butterfly cut the steak. He had a huge smile on his face when he said, “Well I grew up on a cattle ranch and I learned to cook steaks the right way when I was very young.” It was a simple answer that spoke volumes and made us his customers for life.

    We will continue to visit Starker’s, but we will have a lot of sadness that the man with the warm smile won’t be greeting us any longer. There are some great chefs in Kansas City, but none I’ve met impressed us much as John always did. He will be missed by his customers as I’m sure as well as his friends and family. I honestly wish we’d known him better as he seemed like a really great guy. RIP, John.

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