Kansas City Originals

Between July 2011 and December 2012, I photographed 19 chefs and restaurant owners and wrote profiles about them for KC Originals. During that period, I also photographed numerous dishes with accompanying recipes for the web site.

The brief profiles explore the subject’s culinary background, training, influences, and philosophy. The purpose is to inform diners about chefs and local owners at these independent restaurants in the greater Kansas City area. The recipes and profiles assist diners when scouting out local places to eat or dishes to try.

What I loved about these assignments was meeting professionals in the restaurant industry and supporting Kansas City’s local businesses and culinary scene.

Pictured above: Chef Charles d’Ablaing, Chaz on the Plaza.

Chef Profiles

Chef Debbie Gold from The American Restaurant

Chris Carle, co-owner of Coach’s Bar & Grill

Phil Bourne, owner of Waldo Pizza

Chef Steven Cameron from Gaslight Grill

Chef Stefan Haney from Rumors Steakhouse

Chef Matthew Arnold, The Webster House

Chef Glenn Bindley, The Phoenix

Chef Tom Legg, La Bodega Leawood

Broadmoor Technical Center, Broadmoor Bistro

Chef Grant Wagner, JJ’s

Chef Kathy Fiorello from Carlo’s Copa Room

Chef Michael Smith, Extra Virgin

Chef Brian Aaron, Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen

Owner Greg Hunsucker, V’s Italiano Ristorante

Chef Carl Thorne-Thomsen, Story

Chef Charles d’Ablaing, Chaz on the Plaza

Co-owner Victor Cascone, Cascone’s Restaurant

Chef Reed Plumb, Waldo Pizza

Sushi Chef Koji Sakata, Nara


Louisiana Crawfish Salad
by Chef Julio Juarez, Starker’s Restaurant

Buttermilk Poached Campo Lindo Chicken Breast and Spring Fiddlehead Ferns
by Chef Debbie Gold, The American

Fried Paella with Mixed Greens and Creme Fraiche
by Chef English Renshaw, La Bodega

BBQ Pulled Pork Nachos
by Kokopelli Mexican Cantina

Champagne Fish and Chips
by Chef Vito Tovar, The Phoenix

Sweet Potato and Leek Soup Recipe
by Chef Charles D’Ablaing, Chaz on the Plaza

Ancho Chili Coffee-Rubbed Steak with Grand Marnier Butter
by Executive Chef Patrick Williams, Pierpont’s at Union Station

Mussels and Pernod Cream
by Chef Robert Padilla, Trezo Mare

Ahi Tuna on Bruschetta
by Chef Amy Presson from Marina Grog & Galley

Sicilian Sfinge
by Chef Victor Cascone of Cascone’s

Shrimp in Mustard Sauce Appetizer
by Chef DeDe Shields, Shields Manor Bistro

by Anthony Spino, Anthony’s Restaurant and Lounge

Snow & Company Frozen Cocktails

I shot a series of photographs this afternoon at Snow & Company, which serves frozen cocktails using premium ingredients, for a KC Magazine assignment. The story, due out in August, is about cool sweet treats from local establishments. It is definitely a fun assignment.

Snow Camry 3 low res

rockefeller low res

purple rain low res

mallory rockefeller low res

mallory peach low res

Snow Sailor lowres
These shots are outtakes from my visit. Camry Ivory and her friend Mallory Taulbee were kind enough to sit in and sample some delicious (and potent) cocktails such as Purple Rain, A Kick to the Peaches, Sailor’s Gold, and my favorite The Rockefeller. The menu includes a half-dozen other drinks (including a non-alcoholic option) and a few of them use local ingredients ranging from Christopher Elbow’s spiced chocolate to Boulevard Wheat Beer.

Hot weather slowing you down? Cruise over to 18th Street and Wyandotte, order up a frozen cocktail, and sip responsibly.




EBT Restaurant

Recently, EBT Restaurant General Manager Adam Horner invited local writers and foodies to sample dishes from the menu updated by Chef Tate Roberts.

adam horner
Adam Horner

Renovated in 2006, the restaurant’s decor and atmosphere reflect its rich history and contemporary touches that offer a classy setting for drinks and dining.  Here’s a description from the restaurant’s website:

Much of the decor for the restaurant comes from the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store that operated in downtown Kansas City until the 1960′s. EBT Restaurant was opened to honor that department store, which has ties to Kansas City history dating back to the late 1800s. The stained glass, much of the masonry, wrought iron archways and most notably, the two brass elevator cages were all salvaged when the EBT Department store was demolished in 1971.

Guests can reserve a table in one of the two elevator cages for a touch of elegance and novelty or secure a table in the refined dining room.

The draw for this gathering was Chef Tate Robert’s additions to the classic repertoire of dishes on the menu. Roberts has been with the restaurant for a number of years as it has undergone change to revitalize its offerings and attract new clientele under the stewardship of Adam Horner. Roberts cuisine presents classic dishes with a contemporary touch. Nothing too cutting edge that will discourage traditionalists seeking comfort or so revered that it can’t be reinterpreted for modern adventurous palates.

New dishes under the heading of contemporary include pan-roasted duck breast brushed with sweet currant orange glaze and served with sweet corn and Yukon gold potato hash, and bacon green beans; rosemary studded Colorado lamb T-bone; and grilled vegetable Napoleon. Classic entrees range from peppercorn beef tenderloin medallions to pan seared Chilean sea bass.

Other new items on the starters menu are grilled flatbread pizzas (truffle-dressed spinach, ricotta and candied Shallots; hummus, roasted red peppers and mint infused goat cheese) and my personal favorite, bacon wrapped tiger shrimp. For a list of menu items, check www.ebtrestaurant.com/menu.

pizza 2

Among the new signature cocktails, I tried the Pimm’s “New” Cup and The Original (Old Fashioned). The Pimm’s ‘New’ Cup (Pimm’s Cup) blends Pimm’s No. 1 with cucumber-infused lemonade and is served on the rocks with a lemon twist and cucumber slice. Refreshing and crisp, this drink is the perfect antidote to a busy summer day when it’s time to relax.

pimms cup
The Original (Old-Fashioned) is a pour of Woodford Reserve Bourbon over an Angostura bitters-soaked sugar cube and muddled fresh peach and blackberries served on the rocks with a splash of soda and peach flag. While it was a fruit-filled alternative to the citrus and cherry flavors often found in an Old Fashioned, the execution was not quite as satisfying as the Pimm’s. The drink was too strong and the flavors were not clean and distinct.

I look forward to returning to the restaurant to explore the cocktails, wine list, and other dishes on another visit. Conveniently located at I-435 & State Line, the restaurant also houses a lounge with live music Thursday-Saturday.

Contacts:  www.ebtrestaurant.com | on Facebook @ www.facebook.com/EBTKansasCity || on Twitter @ www.twitter.com/EBTKansasCity |Book on OpenTable www.opentable.com/EBT |

Red Mesa Grill

red-mesaRecently, Pam Taylor and I traveled to Chicago and Boyne City/Traverse City in northern Michigan for a week’s vacation with the kids. We ate a few places that were easy to find if you’re in the area and were not touristy at all.

A standout discovery was Red Mesa Grill with locations in Boyne City and Traverse City. The menu features foods with Latin American flavors from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. The atmosphere was upbeat and cordial with bright decor. The Boyne City location seemed to have plenty of locals dining there, but I’ll bet this is a popular spot during the summer tourist season.

Pam had a Sour Cherry Margarita that was sweet, tart, and refreshing. I enjoyed a couple of lightly hoppy pints of Will Power Pale Ale from Right Brain Brewery, based in Traverse City.

The food had distinct flavor combinations and presentation that didn’t feel Americanized at all.

Subtly spiced ground beef empanadas were perfect light pastries with a chipotle cream dipping sauce. Peruvian armadillo eggs are not what they seem, but they are delicious as an appetizer. I tried the masa dusted sauteed whitefish which was sourced locally and prepared to perfection – light crust and flaky, tender filet. Served with steamed vegetables and a chile sauce, the whitefish was a pleasant change from heavy breaded fish and chips. The Cuban black bean cakes were a hearty vegetarian dish. And the Costa Rican garlic steak was a winner as well. We savored the variety of housemade sauces served with dishes as well as bottled sauces on the table.

Other dishes I want to try on some future visit include corn Roasted walleye, wild mushroom fajitas, and roasted pineapple quesadilla. We did leave room for dessert which was a good call. The coconut bread pudding was insanely tasty. The kids enjoyed trying habanero fried ice cream which sounded adventurous, but was more cinnamon and fried dough than peppery.

Service was friendly and attentive. The only drawbacks to visiting Red Mesa Grill were that we had to leave the area soon for the return trip home and that we couldn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo there.

Until next time, I’ll settle for this recipe from the Red Mesa Grill’s website.

Roasted Tomato Salsa


5 lbs    Red Ripe Roma Tomatoes
6 each    Fresh Jalapenos
6 each    Fresh Garlic Cloves
1 tbls    Salt
3 tbls    Cider Vinegar
1 lb    White Onion Small Diced
1 bunch    Fresh Cilantro, rough chopped
1 ea 15 oz can    Salsa Diced Tomatoes


1)  Wash tomatoes and place on baking sheet, and roast in a 500 degree oven until well charred on the outside.

2)  At the same time on a separate baking sheet roast garlic, and jalapenos until charred.

3)  Place roasted garlic, jalapenos, vinegar, and salt in blender and puree

4)  Add charred tomatoes to jalapeno mixture and slightly puree, leaving salsa slightly chunky.

5)  Add onions and rough chopped cilantro to salsa

6)  Finish salsa with diced tomatoes.

Springtime Cooking Class for KC Home and Gardens Magazine

Nebraska Furniture Mart roped off its Kitchen Design Studio for Kansas City Home and Garden magazine’s March Cooking School, featuring Cowtown Cheesecake owner Chef Terry Mille and Last Bite cookbook author Pete Dulin. We prepared a light, fresh four-course menu for the season — using lots of ingredients from local vendors — with recipes for guests to take home. Somerset Ridge co-owner Cindy Reynolds paired her wines with each course. Photo: Matt Kocourek

For more photos and recipes, head to www.kchandg.com/springtime-soiree.

mint pea soup

The Menu:

Salad of spring greens (from Cultivate KC), strawberries and fresh sheep’s milk cheese (from Green Dirt Farm) with lemon-honey vinaigrette

Mint Pea Soup with Mint Whipped Cream

Baked chicken meatballs (using Local Pig sausage and chicken from Steve’s Meat Market in Desoto, Kan.) with pepperonata

Cowtown Cheesecake’s Kansas Cream Cheesecake (made with Shatto cream)


Ventana Gourmet Grill

April/May 2012, Home in the Northland Magazine
Story By: Pete Dulin
Photography By: Brad Austin

A row of local shops line each side of the main strip in old downtown Excelsior Springs. Guests tour the Hall of Waters and Cultural Museum. Afterward, they pop into stores selling antiques, curios, spa services, and arts and crafts. When hunger arises, a good bet is Ventana Gourmet Grill where tourists will find locals proud and pleased to patronize the bistro.

Before Ventana existed, downtown had Ray’s Lunch and Diner (opened in 1932) and some specialty shops. Fast food and chain restaurants encroached on the commercial outskirts of the growing city. Sisters Jill Rickart and Wendy Baldwin decided that their restaurant could fill a need for an “upscale casual dinning experience” sorely lacking in the community.

Circa 2002, Rickart’s kids had started school. She wanted work that would allow her to have some family time. She and Baldwin, who had years of restaurant experience, committed to opening their first establishment together. This past February marked the tenth anniversary of Ventana Gourmet Grill, quite an achievement for any restaurant to survive through the upheavals of the economy over the past decade.

Baldwin knew this vocation was the right choice. She says, “Part of my gift is that I love people. I love creating and serving others. It’s something I really enjoy.”

Ventana, which means window in Spanish, is housed in a building that dates back to the 1890s. The building has seen its share of change. Former residents range from the Boston Mercantile to dime stores to a Ben Franklin retail shop in the Seventies.

Ventana’s aesthetic warmth draws from classic details. Original tin on the ceiling, red brick walls, and polished but weathered dark wood floors evoke a timeless presence. Wooden cafe-style tables and chairs suggest an European bistro’s ambiance. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly as sunshine paints a glowing mural of light in late afternoon.

Touches of yesteryear give Ventana a familiar coziness. A candy display holds bins of gargantuan jawbreakers, malt balls, Pixie Stix, Slow Poke, and other treats. In the corner, a Steinway piano with yellowed keys looks like it might hail from the era of Jesse James when a shifty-eyed musician banged away a tune in a saloon. Ventana does feature live piano music on Friday and Saturday nights, adding to the bistro flair.

People in the community come here to meet as much as to eat. Ladies lunch, business men and women entertain clients, couples celebrate with a romantic night out, and families mark special occasions such as wedding rehearsals and anniversaries with a trip to Ventana. The community’s pride and appreciation for having a nice place to gather is evident. “Customers get excited to come in, bring their friends, and introduce them to the staff,” says Rickart.

Ventana hires students from local and area schools for their serving staff. Cooks Josh Gall, Ambrose Alberts, and Jason Hallmark have worked in the kitchen for many years. Rickart adds, “We instruct our staff to learn customer names and their dining preferences so they can order ‘the usual.’ It makes customers feel important.”

Not surprisingly, the bistro’s regulars enthusiastically support this local business. “We have regulars come in on certain nights,” says Baldwin. “They call us if they can’t make it or go on vacation because they don’t want us to worry if we don’t see them. It’s amazing.”

This embrace of a local business goes beyond the adoration of hometown boosters. The food is a sure draw. Before Ventana opened, the city lacked a place to eat quality steak, pasta, and seafood. Not any longer. Ventana Gourmet Grill was also featured on KCPT’s food program Check, Please! Kansas City two years ago with favorable reviews.

The kitchen prepares its dishes from scratch including pasta and cheesecakes. The food is so popular that the sisters have not been able to change the menu in any substantial way.

“Everything is ordered so much,” says Baldwin. She cites a cheesy baked potato soup served on Fridays that has been on the menu since the second week of the restaurant’s opening ten years ago. “People like to have their favorites.”

Baldwin favors the shrimp scampi and Burgundy steak on the menu. Rickart likes to eat the 16-ounce rib-eye and gourmet veggie sandwich. The restaurant serves food to suit vegetarian, low-carb, and gluten-free diets.

Steaks are cut fresh from the local grocer are a popular entree as well as the Tuscan pasta, a colorful dish loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms, and spinach tossed with spinach fettuccine and feta cheese. The Sugar Burger is a six-ounce serving of ground Black Angus beef cooked to order, brushed with a smoky brown sugar glaze, and topped with sauteed onions, cheddar cheese, and bacon.

The menu offers an extensive array of appetizers, salads, and daily soups that could double as a weekly calendar for customers. Lobster bisque is the soup? It must be Thursday. The bounty of burgers, sandwiches, sides, and hearty entrees of pasta, steak, and seafood means never getting bored with the options. Homemade cheesecakes and bread pudding are worth loosening the belt and unsnapping the button on the waistband to indulge.

Ventana stocks a full bar, specialty beers, teas, and an array of wines from around the world to complement meals.

After a visit or two, don’t be surprised by the friendly smiles as the folks at Ventana Gourmet Grill make you feel at home. Whether it’s a short jaunt or a longer venture, it’s worth the drive to downtown Excelsior Springs to experience this crowd-pleasing local place of pride.

Mon.-Sat. Lunch & Dinner
Historic Downtown
117 W. Broadway
Excelsior Springs, Mo 64024

More photographs:  http://homeinthenorthland.com/index.php/ventana-gourmet-grill/

Cooking, Eating, Philosophizing About Food

Ferran Adria Lately, I’ve been reading Ferran: The Inside Story of El Bulli and the Man Who Reinvented Food written by Colman Andrews (Gotham Books, 2010). The book is an informative (and over-the-top, at times) read for those interested in cuisine and one of the industry’s notable names. The book fixates on El Bulli restaurant owner and chef Ferran Adrià, but it also examines the succession of people driven to create, refine, and serve cuisine at the famed Spanish restaurant that existed in obscurity for years.

A passage in chapter nine prompted thought about the nature of cooking, eating, and philosophizing about food. An excerpt follows:

The job of the cook has always been to change food physically:  first to separate it from its natural environment, either himself or through the agency of a forager or farmer or the like — to uproot it, cut it down, pluck it, catch it, slaughter it; then to shape it for further attention by peeling it, seeding it, gutting it, cutting it up, discarding its inedible or infelicitous portions; then — and this is as good a definition of “cooking” as any — to alter its molecular structure, either through a process like drying, soaking, salting, smoking, or marinating (or through the actions of induced fermentation), or, more commonly, especially in the modern age, through the application of heat; and finally to combine it with other, complimentary, foods and/or to add seasonings or flavorings to render it more palatable. It wasn’t until sources of food supply became regularized, though, and we were able to exercise some control over the growing of plants and animals, through agriculture and husbandry, that we had the luxury of actually thinking about how to make food taste better instead of how to just get our hands on it in the first place. And it almost certainly wasn’t until certain societies, or segments of society, found that they had an abundance of food on a consistent basis that they began to philosophize about it — to appreciate it as something more than a mere (mere?) adjunct of survival; that gastronomy was born.

That well-written passage covers an immense span of human culture. It touches on hunter/gatherer approaches to sustenance. It alludes to the agrarian and manufacturing processing, production, and distribution of food. It lists different techniques to prepare wild and domesticated ingredients. And it addresses consumption of food physically and intellectually.

I’m stuck on this notion of philosophizing about food and what that means exactly in today’s environment of foodie-ism and social/media coverage. Is it a luxury for people to philosophize about food when they don’t have to expend time, energy, and money to procure it for survival? Or is that a misguided notion? How is this appreciation of food’s value, socially and aesthetically, influenced by economic class, culture, race, and tradition?

The term “philosophy” evokes images of academia, erudite scholars, daydreamers, and self-appointed experts espousing schools of thought. At a gut level, I think that food itself and the appreciation of its value and role has been used historically to provoke thought, express ideas, uphold culture, and illuminate issues in many forms – art, song, film, oral tradition, poetry, etc. –  Further, that expression intersects with education, class, wealth, and other real-world social earmarks not limited to airy philosophical notions.

For instance, the heart of the Slow Food movement is based on considering local food sources, choosing sustainable and heritage foods, taking time to eat food as a social practice, and so forth. Its core tenets actually are a reminder of man’s relationship with food before industrial manufacturing and marketing and our go-go lifestyle came along.

In his passage above, Andrews doesn’t mention the modern accelerated pace of documenting food through media as another form of consumption.  Such consumers contribute to the appreciation, marketing, craving, and repackaging of food as experience. We’ve become an audience of product, service, and entertainment consumers to be marketed to. Aided by the internet and cable television fostering the Age of Celebrity Chef and Food Personalities, the appreciation of food and the cook has evolved over the past 40 years (thanks Julia Child and Galloping Gourmet!) into something that seemingly connects us to, but feels removed from, our food supply. (Insert sarcasm here.) Thank goodness for today’s mobile apps so we can post our location, thoughts, and photos while at our favorite restaurant, farmer’s market, or food truck.

Andrews’ observation about food philosophy suggests a parting between the professional cooks that procure and prepare food and the rest of us that “philosophize” or appreciate it on many levels. Foodie has become a ubiquitous shorthand for those who enjoy cooking, eating, and seeking out good food at their retail fingertips.  That is to say, a foodie is anyone with the disposable income and inclination to be one whether they adopt the moniker or not.

Meanwhile, the role of the modern cook (or chef) has gone beyond physically changing food and serving it in palatable form. Those cooks willing (and sometimes those who are not) to play the role of ambassador and social/media personality serve up a palatable presence for a (hopefully) appreciative audience. This loosely symbiotic relationship between foodie/customer/consumer and cook/social experience producer creates a full circle appreciation, if not outright celebration, of food as an extension (representation? expression?) of lifestyle.

To each their own. However, I have this gut feeling that there’s something much deeper and more powerful to how food can be more than a gastronomic indulgence, warm and fuzzy philosophy, or manifestation of an experience subsequently documented via social media. Are there examples of how food was and is integral to the state of our well-being as individuals and as a society? That food can play a pivotal role in larger events?

Take Upton Sinclair’s examination of the meatpacking industry in his 1906 novel The Jungle. His nonfiction reporting examines the mechanized processing of food and also taps into critical social issues of that era regarding poverty, poor working conditions, and corruption by those in power. The book was a catalyst for change where the public and government took stock of what was happening in this food-based industry and made changes to reassert more control over food.

Here is a current pop culture example. The Hunger Games, a book series that spawned a movie, touches on vital social themes. The novel’s premise addresses the great relationship of food between individuals and a society. A post-apocalyptic world gets to the heart of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs regarding food with a Machiavellian twist – procuring it, controlling it, lording it as a luxury for those in power, and using it as a device to develop social entertainment by subjugating those without access to food as recreational pawns. Despite its popularity, I don’t know that a book or movie like The Hunger Games will get anyone to think or act about food in philosophical terms any more than one of Michael Pollan’s books.

When it comes to food, we live in a weirdly connected/disconnected time. A significant portion of society in a First World country like the U.S. struggles to feed itself, as food policy expert Mark Winne or the folks at Harvesters can attest. At the same time just a few zip codes away from neighborhood food deserts, fellow citizens celebrate local cooks, farms, food-based businesses and locavorism. We’re getting back to the old ways of shopping at farmer’s markets, foraging, canning, and using traditional methods to make the most of food not simply for survival but to taste even better.

Far from concerns about procuring food for survival, foodies use social media to communicate their experiences with and about food – buying it, cooking it, seasoning it, celebrating it. To borrow from Andrews, certain segments of society have the luxury to philosophize about and appreciate food and the cooks, both professional and at-home, that prepare it. And other segments of society different than ours might be doing the same through the arts, passing on culinary traditions, and supporting establishments that foodies don’t know about yet.

With so many layers to our relationship with food distributed unevenly in society, it makes me wonder how these disparate experiences surrounding food will be expressed in our 21st century culture. Will the cooks, eaters, and philosophers from various segments of society grow closer or further apart?


Image courtesy of ElBulliFoundation.

Sofia Perez: What Constitutes Good Food Writing?

What constitutes good food writing?  As a food writer for several publications, and as someone with some professional cooking experience, I’ve been thinking about this topic recently. I have invited several food writers such as Sofia Perez, editor-at-large for Saveur, to share their thoughts in this limited-run series of posts.

It seems like everyone is a foodie these days with an opinion. I’m all for free speech, but I’m more interested in good writing (technically and creatively) with a distinct point of view about food. With the ease of online publishing and food-based sites that harvest comments and “reviews,” it’s hard to find and recognize good food writing. Of course, “good” is a qualitative term relative to one’s taste.

Back to the question:  What constitutes good writing? In what forms can people find it – reviews, opinion columns, profiles, and travel pieces? Does food writing matter as a source of information or is it more entertainment? How informed or inquisitive should a food writer be in their capacity as a blogger or paid writer? Being a foodie (a term I dislike) has become a democratized lifestyle and expression of a person’s interest that’s ubiquitous today. Similarly, “food writer” as a title has become slung around as carelessly as “chef.”

To address some of these questions and ideas, I invited Sofia Perez to comment. She is a freelance writer and editor-at-large for Saveur who writes about food, wine, the environment, and books. She’s also currently working on her first book, a historical novel about the Spanish Civil War. In addition to her freelance writing, she has also taught a food-writing class at New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education. You can learn more about her work at www.sofia-perez.com.


Sofia Perez

Sofia PerezWhen I teach my food-writing class, I always start off by telling my students to broaden their definition of food writing, to include everything from restaurant reviews, trendspotting, and recipe-focused articles to personal essays and historical pieces, and a million things in between. It can be a challenge to make general statements about such a broad area, but here goes:

Early on in my career, I remember going to a panel discussion on food writing, and one of the panelists (I can’t remember who) made the point that there’s no such thing as a food writer. If we’re any good at what we do, we’re writers and journalists first, and we just happen to cover the subject of food. I agree with this. There is a lot (and I mean a lot) of crappy writing about food out there–pieces that betray the writer’s ignorance about the subject and his/her laziness and lack of due diligence when it comes to research. But it’s also true that there’s a lot of sub-par writing about sports, travel, the economy, etc. The pieces that grab me, regardless of the topic, are the ones that are well-written and insightful — particularly when they have a distinct point of view, as you mentioned.

I’m especially drawn to food articles that have a human element. It’s fine to publish a feature on potatoes, but I find it much more interesting to read a piece on the role the potato places in a particular culture’s cuisine. Or the story behind one person’s potato recipe, which is based on the way her grandfather taught her, and can be traced back to a technique he learned in the old country for XYZ reason, etc. Food is a subject that is inextricably linked to our humanity, and the pieces that make that connection between the two are the ones I gravitate toward. A great example is the writing of my dear friend, Maureen Abood, whose excellent blog “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms” is as much about her own life and that of her extended family and friends as it is about Lebanese-American cuisine. http://www.maureenabood.com (For a good example, see this post: http://www.maureenabood.com/2011/07/27/are-you-a-coosa/)

Regarding the question of entertainment, articles about food can be purely voyeuristic and sybaritic, but they can also be service-oriented (restaurant reviews or pieces on how to shop for, store, and cook a particular ingredient), investigative (an examination of our meat supply or what is behind the USDA organic label), educational (Mark Kurlansky’s books on salt and cod), or philosophical (David Foster Wallace’s article in Gourmet on the ethics of cooking and eating lobsters).

Through it all, the “entertainment” factor, if you will, is part of the equation, but it’s merely a matter of how well the articles are written and how compellingly the story is told. I can sit down and read a novel for the pure enjoyment of it, and find it entertaining, but that doesn’t preclude it from also illuminating some issue or historical event or place, and providing me with a new way of seeing the world that I wasn’t expecting when I started to read it.

In terms of how informed a writer should be (and I make no distinction between blogger or writers who work for other outlets — a good writer should be able to write for any medium, period), I would say this: It is the duty of a writer/journalist to know what he or she is writing about. I’m currently writing a novel, but even though it is fiction, I have done a great deal of research to make sure that the historical details are accurate and ring true to those who are familiar with the time and place about which I’m writing. Of course historical fiction demands this more than other genres, but even a writer of escapist crime dramas has to nail the veracity of the cops’ dialogue or the description of the coroner’s tools, for example. If he or she doesn’t bother to do that, readers will pick up on it and be turned off.

It is the duty of a writer/journalist to know what he or she is writing about.

So any writer who is writing for a readership and not just his/her own diary has a responsibility to do the homework and research. As writers, all we do is chronicle a landscape (be it real or fictional, internal or external), and if a writer can’t be bothered to get the details right, why should I as a reader bother to read it? This responsibility becomes even more acute when we are talking about people’s livelihoods (as in a restaurant review or a profile of a chef, farmer, or food business), or a service piece. The latter pieces may not be as sexy as a food essay, but they can be extremely important to the reader. When the person who’s cooking his first Thanksgiving turkey decides to following the instructions offered in a published article, online or otherwise, he is going to expect that the writer got the details right and that none of his guests is about to get food poisoning because he was directed to leave the thawed bird out on the counter overnight.

Democratization can be a wonderful thing. During the age of print domination, we tended to hear from the usual suspects, and many writers had a hard time breaking through, myself included. The great boon of technology means that there is now a place for new voices. But it’s important to realize that that freedom comes with a price. Everyone eats, and so everyone has an opinion about food, but although we’re all entitled to our opinions, simply having a thought or opinion doesn’t automatically make you a writer or journalist. Writing and reporting are skills that are honed over time and with experience. And once someone crosses from the land of opinion into the territory of fact, he/she has a responsibility to be accurate and know what he/she is talking about. Democratization does not let you off the hook. And the reality that folks are increasingly relying on Wikipedia or web sources as their primary material (which, as a former research editor, makes me shudder) means that we all have an even greater responsibility to avoid putting out inaccurate information that will then get repeated endlessly in the online echo chamber.

Feast of Saint Joseph at Anthony’s

Last Sunday I headed to Anthony’s Restaurant and Lounge to shoot a photograph for an upcoming recipe that will be posted on www.kcoriginals.com beginning in April 2012. Anthony Spino, a tall gregarious guy with shaggy hair, full beard, and contagious smile, greeted me when I entered the restaurant located at 701 Grand. As the manager, he showed me around the restaurant full of people celebrating the Feast of Saint Joseph.

Generations of Italian-Americans and other people from the community gathered for this annual feast traditionally held on or around March 19. This local event was a fundraiser for Children’s Mercy Hospital and St. Jude’s. The celebration recognizes the patron saint that heard the prayers of villagers and brought rain to an area of Sicily suffering famine during a long drought in the Middle Ages.

feast 2

st joseph cake

Anthony explains that the saint helped the poor and needy and this feast was to honor him. Traditional food served for the feast includes bread, fava beans, seafood (during Lent), fig cookies and other pastries. Many families from the community brought the trays of homemade pastries that covered tables inside the restaurant. The kitchen at Anthony’s was busy dishing out plates of pasta.

anthonys egg

I photographed a frosia, a Sicilian omelet made with vegetables and thickened with bread crumbs, for my KC Originals assignment. Afterward, Anthony invited me to stay, eat, and visit. Since the restaurant was packed, we sat outside on a patio where his father Anthony “Butch” Spino, Jr., uncle, and other older men passed the time with a smoke and a beer as they told stories of yesteryear’s working class laborers.

Food has always been about more than filling my belly, pleasing my senses, and documenting every detail. I’ve always connected food to family, community, local economy, the people that grow and prepare food, social connections, traditions, customs, and geography. Rarely do I have the opportunity to write about these interconnected subjects at length in my freelance writing. This meal was a simple but powerful reminder of these associations.

Eating a plate of spaghetti with red sauce, sardines, and cauliflower was a new taste experience for me. I listened to the stories, chiding, and laughter. I watched friends, neighbors, and children walk up to greet others, exchange kisses on the cheek, and pay respect. I smiled as Anthony kidded with a young boy near our table. I remembered the Perniciaro family that once lived on my street in my mom’s neighborhood when I was growing up. Sons Joe and little Anthony Perniciaro were cherub-cheeked boys like this kid.

Butch Spino told me that the Feast of St. Joseph used to be celebrated in homes years ago and families would visit each other. This relaxed moment on a Sunday afternoon reminded me that, like a church, a restaurant serves as a gathering place where people can interrupt their busy lives, emerge from the insular cocoon of the home, and join together as a community. It was a pleasure to watch old friends and family reconnect.

This gathering was authentic Slow Food without the feel of belonging to a club. Food, tradition observed, people making the effort to connect, and giving back to the community are potent ingredients for savoring a rich life.
Above: (From left) father Anthony “Butch” Spino, Jr., name unknown, Anthony Spino, mother Theresa Spino, brother Vito Spino, name unknown.

anthonys family sm