Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Scott Welsch wants to make his Orange Box a food oasis

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Chef Scott Welsch takes a rare moment to sit in front of his restaurant, Orange Box.
  • Brooke Vandever
  • Chef Scott Welsch takes a rare moment to sit in front of his restaurant, Orange Box.
Scott Welsch excuses himself and runs outside to make sure the tires of an 18-wheeler don't crush the newly laid brick walk outside his month-old restaurant, Orange Box. The chef watches the driver carefully execute the turn. His bricks are safe for at least one more morning.

This is life at 2700 Jarboe, where Welsch's tiny lunch spot is tucked between houses and aging manufacturing buildings. Rainbow umbrellas and patio furniture reclaimed from his own home sit outside the restaurant, a short walk from the new Roasterie plant.

"I always wanted to have a little hole in the wall that has great food," he says. "The people are different. People come to a hole in the wall for the experience, not for the fine china. I never wanted to be on the Plaza taking on the giants."

At first, kitchen work was just a way to help a 19-year-old St. Joseph native pay for his history and art education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Welsch was chopping vegetables and composing salads in the kitchen of the Hyatt Regency Crown Center but thinking about the Civil War. Soon, though, the artistry of presentation spoke more to him than a career of lecturing students. So he left history to the historians and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America.

After graduating, in 1993, Welsch considered living in Brooklyn, but the Hyatt called. Over the better part of a decade in Kansas City, he rose there to the position of executive chef. In 2001, he left the Hyatt and spent six months cooking on the line at Café Europa, a then-new restaurant being opened by his friend Scott Cowell.

"After 15 years of everything being critical, it was just nice to show up to work in a stupid T-shirt and make something," Welsch, now 42, says.

He also began working for a small catering company in Independence, Missouri. In 2003, he bought Cuisine Catering and opened Metro Catering. A year later, he moved both operations to Jarboe, following his business clients to the downtown area. And he began to think about his own spot, a place where food would transcend location.

"I want to inspire people with memory dishes," he says. "When you taste something, you'll get a flashback to some great experiences of your childhood."

The menu is a synthesis of his life experiences and favorite dishes: pork tenderloins bigger than a plate, fried-tilapia tacos on Fridays, a Waldorf salad made with Greek yogurt. He's also relying on his own memories. His Aunt Rose's macaroni salad (it's just mayo, cheddar and macaroni, but he hasn't quite cracked the recipe) is on the menu next to a watermelon-basil-feta salad (the combination came to him in a dream).

Welsch sees Orange Box as the start of a series of locations designed to bring homemade, fresh meals to areas that some call "food deserts" - neighborhoods lacking access to affordable, healthy food. "Everybody wants real food," he says. "I just want to make good food in neighborhoods that don't have it."

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