Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chef Cari Jo Cavalcante, Part 2: Hiding the liver and onions and loving Thomas Keller

Posted By on Thu, Feb 16, 2012 at 11:30 AM

The Bloomsbury Bistro is tucked away inside the Mission Road Antique Mall.
  • The Bloomsbury Bistro is tucked away inside the Mission Road Antique Mall.
Chef Cari Jo Cavalcante, the owner of the Bloomsbury Bistro, has made Kansas City her home the past three decades, and she's glad that the world is finally catching on to all that the city has to offer.

"Kansas City is just a great town. It's been interesting to be here 30 years. The other night, I was coming home from a meeting and I saw the downtown skyline. It's changed so much since I lived here. It's nice that we're really getting more recognition for our food," Cavalcante says.

On Wednesday, she talked about her dream of becoming a sportscaster and what led her to the bistro space in Prairie Village. Tomorrow, she'll share the story behind the "Paris plates." Today, she's diving into all of the things she loves and hates in the kitchen.

What are your culinary inspirations? My aunt was a huge inspiration to me. She was a self-taught gourmet cook. She was a caterer in New York. She passed away right before our 10th anniversary. Her real claim to fame was her almond pound cake, and I was privileged enough to get the family recipe. She was fearless. Then, I probably have 150 cookbooks at home. I sit and page through them and find things that I like. As you grow as a chef, you can look at a recipe and know if it isn’t going to be a good recipe. I pick and choose and combine them. I really try to keep an open mind, but I love adding flair or a twist to traditional foods — like adding candied walnuts to our Waldorf salad or tarragon to the dressing. I also think of my clientele. I’d like to do a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, making my own peanut butter. It would be a great idea, but it probably wouldn’t sell very well.

What are you experimenting with? I’m experimenting more and more with herbs and spices in desserts. My favorite is lemon basil crème brulee. But it’s hard to get unless you grow it yourself. Lavender pastry cream is something that’s really fun to me. On the dessert side, there’s just so much room to move because people are willing to try different things.

What’s one food you hate? Beef liver. I’m so not a liver lover, but I’m going to try it every five years and say, "why did I do that?" My mom’s favorite dish was liver and onions. She’d fry them up, and there was a swing-out window in our kitchen. Whenever we knew we were having liver and onions, we’d try to sit by that that window because our boxer would sit under it. Or when our mom wasn’t looking, we’d stuff it under our mashed potatoes, because she didn’t care if we didn’t eat our mashed potatoes.

What’s one food you love? Lobster and lobster bisque. I had a great one in Portland, Maine, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I do love salmon, but I’m really picky about it when I go out to eat because it’s often overdone.

What’s your guilty pleasure? The TV show, JAG. It’s on this HD channel at 5 and 6 at night. I’ve seen every show, and when I get home, I still turn it on. Foodwise, I’d have to say desserts. I will order dessert every time I go out. That’s probably why we’re known for our carrot cake here. We don’t go through a day without selling some. I recently went to Seasons 52, and there were nine of us, and everybody had dessert because it was just a little bite. I thought that was one of the smarter concepts I’d seen.

What’s always in your kitchen? Vanilla soy, although I don’t cook with soy. Dijon mustard is a staple. And there’s always some kind of pasta — rigatoni — because it’s what I grew up with.

Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? My favorite restaurant was Il Trullo, but it closed four years ago. That was one restaurant that I could eat in every night from start to finish. They had a great pastry chef; she made great desserts and actually came and worked here for a few months. J. Gilbert’s is a real go-to haunt. I get their Caesar salad and I love their carpaccio. I get the petite filet combos and scallops. But that’s the one place I don’t get dessert. Everything gets this raspberry sauce; it drives me crazy.

What’s one book that every chef should read? The cookbook that every chef should have in their kitchen is The Joy of Cooking. It gives you the basics. You can always go off it. You can play with it, and it gives you a really good base. Life on the Line is another one. It’s so beautifully written. You can sit there as a chef and picture yourself in Thomas Keller’s kitchen. You watch it all kind of happen and you can appreciate what he went through. Losing the ability to taste is pretty profound, and the fact that he’s come back is pretty remarkable.

Who’s got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? I have to say I went to Oklahoma Joe’s for the first time around four weeks ago, and the ribs were just fall-apart good.

What’s your favorite local ingredient? Farm to Market bread — I like the rosemary olive oil. They do a wonderful job.

What’s your dream drinking/eating destination? I would have to say the French Laundry. It’s definitely on the list. I’m a real fan of Thomas Keller. He takes the time to do it right. A resolution of mine is to have more patience. As a chef, it’s really easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and take shortcuts. This year, I want to slow down a bit and be patient with my cooking.

A chef is only as good as … their standards. Because I think everyone goes into the business with high standards and then gets beaten down through the years. You have to be able to maintain those high standards and take the hard road as far as staffing.

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