Jason Bowers grew up in an interesting era -- when chefs like the Galloping Gourmet and Frugal Gourmet had just arrived on the scene. The executive chef at the Hotel Phillips remembers watching both on television with his grandfather, who had been a cook in the Army.
"To see that flair, the ability to produce something artistic in nature with food -- that really interested me," Bowers says.
Today, he explains why side dishes are so important, while tomorrow he talks about meeting a rock god and his five favorite beers for summer.
What are your culinary inspirations? I try to get to a dark room and think.
It's a lot different than it used to be. Now, I'm looking at drinks and it's so important that the side dishes really work with the entree. So many times, it's the second thought. I look at the menu and an item like the strip steak with potato risotto. It's diced yukon gold potatoes cooked down with garlic and chicken stock. Then I hat that with cream and parmesan and fold it over. Then a big pile of shiitake mushrooms, garlic, a port-wine demi and black pepper molasses. You could just have to build from the ground up.
What is your favorite ingredient? I like fish. Any seafood. There's such a broad spectrum of what you can do with it. You can serve it with cold sauce or a warm demi glaze, it's such an open canvas. It accepts a lot of different things and there's different ways to cut it and cook it.
What was your best recent food find? [Boulevard's] Tank 7. I like the flavor that's in it. When I make the beer cheese soup, I try to sneak in Tank 7, even though I know there are other ones they probably want me to use. I love that I can take the Bully Porter right off the tap, marinate the chicken wings overnight and then dip them and fry them. It's incredible.
What's your favorite local ingredient? It's produce that I got from just down the street at Saint John's Gardens -- turnips and potatoes. Put them on greens with sauteed shallots, shiitakes, strawberries and goat cheese. It's a phenomenal. In a perfect world, I'd have one of those little co-ops and a little garden. I've tried to talk them into letting me do something on teh roof -- we get plenty of sun.
What's the one food you hate? I hate fresh tomatoes. I can't do a fresh tomato. I can do cooked tomatoes all day long. I've just never been able to eat them raw. My oldest son eats raw tomatoes, my youngest one started eating raw onions. I can't do those either. If I see a philly on the menu, I ask if they can cook the onions as well done as possible. On the other hand, if we make a ceviche, I can eat them all day long.
What's one food you love? Mushrooms. I just made a little pork
tenderloin with mushrooms and swiss cheese. It's morel season. Give me a five gallon
bucket of morels and I'm happy. Just light egg batter with crushed crackers and fry
them like grandma. My kids asked for some kid of dipping sauce and I was like, 'are you kidding me?' You just eat them as is.
What's your guilty pleasure? Girl drinks. I like a fou-fou margarita. Frozen with a salted rim.
What's always in your kitchen? Peanut butter. I love creamy. I go a real generic. And second is Sriracha. Take that, a bit of peanut butter and a little bit of coconut milk and you've got a pretty banging peanut sauce. I also love Latin cuisine, so I put peppers on everything. I love that little heat factor. It opens up your senses.
At Poco's on the Boulevard, I'll get the chorizo plate or enchiladas with the mole sauce. I could also just eat a pile of tortillas with lettuce and tomato, minus the tomato, and the salsa verde. Or I'll go over to El Taconazo on 7th Street and get the tacos pastor with pork and cilantro. I'll have them leave off the chopped onions. But the guacamole, you can hear them swirling it up in back and it comes with this big old pile of fresh, real fried corn chips. I'm a sucker for that.
Where do you like to eat out? Over on the other side of Kansas Avenue, I'll get a few pounds of carnitas, a big old stack of tortillas and salsa verde. And then there's Bichelmeyer's, that's a guilty pleasure for sure. I love Johnny's Tavern. I'll get their chicken wings or a burger, the simple stuff. All of the food I listed has four or five ingredients. I just want them to fry it and put some sauce on it. But if somebody else is footing the bill, I'll be at Bluestem.
Jason Wiggins, when he was at the Raphael, made me some of the best food I had in such a long time. It was a seven-course meal for my wife's birthday. I love eating like that. Where, he says, let me just cook for you. You get a bunch of food and let's see what happens.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu? Rosedale BBQ's half-chicken. I love how you get a half-chicken and to warm it up they toss it in the fryer. It's some really good eating there.
One book that every chef should read? Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. From a realistic standpoint, Bourdain is probably the best. It's real. If I were to write a book, it would probably have a lot of the same chapters.
Who's got the best barbecue in town and what are you
ordering? There was a guy back in Parsons, Kansas, when we lived there. He was an old guy and he would go in to the back of this room. He'd come back with your barbecue wrapped in foil. I don't know if it was out of the freezer or ground or magic, but it was amazing.
As for Kansas City, that's debatable. I like Arthur Bryant's a lot. I like the chicken and sausage platter. At Gate's, I feel like I get abused with all that yelling. Oklahoma Joe's, it's their chicken. I love barbecue chicken. I also do their sausage and the Z-man is killer.
A chef is only as good as...his cooks.