Elevating Midwestern Flavors
Credited with re-energizing Kansas City’s dining scene, Colby Garrelts is the James Beard award-winning chef behind the game-changing Bluestem, known for impeccable modernist cuisine, and Rye, a more casual eatery that celebrates his Midwestern roots. We chat with Colby about how the city’s food scene has evolved since he opened Bluestem, the inspiration behind his new restaurant, and his favorite Kansas City restaurants.
AndrewZimmern.com: How did you meet your wife and now business partner?
Colby Garrelts: We met while working at TRU in Chicago. I was a sous and she was in the pastry kitchen. Needless to say it was frowned upon.
AZ.com: With an acclaimed chef and pastry chef under one roof, what’s the typical meal look like at your house?
CG: It’s sort of a struggle with the kids right now. They’re going through a phase of not liking anything… But we cook very seasonally, I might steam some fish with some vegetables and aromatic broth in the spring and braise veal shanks in the winter. We cook all the time. Cooking for my family is absolutely the most rewarding thing in my life.
AZ.com: You’ve cooked in renowned kitchens in Chicago, California and Vegas, why move back to Kansas City to open your first restaurant?
CG: I wanted to come home. I couldn’t imagine opening a restaurant in another city and not having my friends and family around to enjoy it!
AZ.com: In a city known for barbecue, did opening a modernist fine dining restaurant seem risky at the time?
CG: Yes… completely stupid. But I’m glad I took the risk, it shaped who I am.
AZ.com: How has the city’s food scene changed in the last decade?
CG: Enormously. I think with how the internet has given us a glimpse into everyone’s kitchen, it has brought culture to every city. When I came back to Kansas City, there was a very small handful of great chefs with their own places, now we’re starting to take over!
CG: Bluestem is where I can really express my ideas in food. It’s modern and refined and makes me feel proud as a chef. Rye is everything I want when I go out to eat on an average week night. It’s fun, comfortable, I can get fried chicken and it has all the beers and bourbon I like!
AZ.com: What’s the inspiration behind the menu?
CG: Essentially it’s the food Megan and I grew up eating. Fried chicken, BBQ, and veggies from Mom and Dad’s garden.
AZ.com: Favorite restaurants in Kansas City? Any up-and-coming chefs to watch?
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
CG: Milk, eggs, OJ by the truck load, hot sauce, a cucumber, Boulevard Pale Ale, Miller High Life, miso, wonton noodles, lots of fruit, A-1 sauce (my wife), fresh preserves, apple sauce, pickled green tomatoes from my dad’s farm and some pickled beets!
Check out chef Garrelts’ recipe for Fresh Pea Soup.
Chef Colby Garrelts is a 2013 James Beard Foundation winner of the Best Chef: Midwest award. He was named by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the Top 10 Best New Chefs in 2005 and obtained his culinary education in kitchens across the country. A native of Kansas City, Garrelts cooked at two prestigious private clubs, the famed American Restaurant, and the legendary Stolen Grill while attending culinary school. Garrelts developed a taste for big city cuisine, small business acumen and the aspiration to see what culinary experiences he could acquire in larger cities. With all of this on his mind, Garrelts moved to Chicago in 1999, where he became the senior sous chef at the five-star, five-diamond restaurant TRU, under nationally acclaimed chefs Rick Tramanto and Gale Gand. At TRU, Garrelts honed his technical skills, developed his culinary style and met his future wife/ partner Megan Schultz.
Still anxious to get additional experience, Garrelts moved with Schultz to Las Vegas where he assisted Chef Jean Joho in managing his Eiffel Tower property in the Paris Hotel and later joined Schultz at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. On a mission to hone their skills in a smaller kitchen, Garrelts and Schultz moved to Los Angeles where Chef Colby Garrelts secured the chef de cuisine position at Röckenwagner Restaurant in Santa Monica, California. After 2 years in Los Angeles Garrelts was eager to open his own restaurant where he could take the skills and experiences accumulated from the talented chefs he had worked for and blend them into his own distinctive cuisine.
Colby and Megan Garrelts, now married, moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 2003. The couple located a building in the heart of Westport, Kansas City’s entertainment district, and opened bluestem on March 15th 2004. In 2006 they expanded bluestem and opened a lounge next door to the dining room. The restaurant showcases chef Colby Garrelts’ Progressive American Cuisine and pastry chef Megan Garrelts’ New Varieties of American Desserts. A highlight of dining at bluestem is savoring the three, five or 10-course tasting menus and the decadent dessert tasting menu. The restaurant has received rave reviews including; 2007 Santé Magazine Restaurant of the Year, a 4-star rating from Kansas City Magazine, and Wine Spectator’s prestigious Award of Excellence. Insisting on “his way,” chef Colby Garrelts has successfully shown that this can result in an exceptional restaurant and award-winning cuisine! The Garrelts’ are very excited about their first cookbook, bluestem, the cookbook, which was released in fall 2011 and showcases the cuisine featured at the restaurant.
In December of 2012, Colby and Megan opened rye restaurant which celebrates the Midwestern foods they grew up eating. These chefs are proud to be from the Midwest and rye gives them the opportunity to showcase dishes that they have enjoyed with several generations of their families. Their cuisine takes traditional dishes and gives them a chef ’s point of view, while preserving the important heritage of the dish. The chefs use fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and products including produce from their family farm. The beverages also have a local focus with a selection of wines, spirits and beers from Missouri and Kansas. There is an assortment of classic cocktails as well as regionally-inspired beverages such as moonshine cocktails.