The Pitch: What's your favorite ingredient?
Welsch: Garlic - it goes with everything. I had garlic ice cream. It was delicious. They candied it. You knew it was garlic, but it wasn't strong. I loved a chilled garlic soup. Garlic is like salt and pepper and wheat. It's the basis of our tastes.
What are your culinary inspirations? I travel a lot. I went to Egypt last year for three weeks, and you see the difference between the way food is treated overseas and how it's treated here. I walk into a shop in Cairo, and the brother of the meat on the counter is outside eating grass. It's like that all over the world. Meat shouldn't be bright, fake red. Meat should be aged. That's where the flavor comes from. I remember the first time I went to Europe. I ordered veal and sent it back because I thought it was bad. I'd just never experienced real meat. Finally, after a few times, I got it. I like people to try new things. Like bitter melon and bitter leaf from China. I served quail egg and I was shocked at how many people came in and tried it.
What was your best recent food find? I used to go to Pho KC every day for the best bowl of soup ever. It's got a new owner and the broth is just as good. They have really good spring rolls with a delicious peanut sauce. I keep trying to sneak back into the kitchen to find out how it's made. There are so many great restaurants over on Kansas Avenue. I go to Tortilleria San Antonio for the menudo. Everything is good there. We use their tortillas for the fish tacos. I wait for them to come off the assembly line and bring them over the restaurant hot. There and the tortillas at Ninfa's. I'd rather go to a dive than a formal restaurant. I judge a restaurant by whether or not I can do better.
What are you experimenting with? Curries, real authentic curries. I'd like to go to India in the next year or two. I love going through food markets overseas. It's overwhelming - this kaleidoscope of sounds, smells and sights.
What's one food you love? Unfortunately there are too many of them. I believe in pure pleasure and I'm not talking as a chef. Ice cream, any kind of ice cream. I get stuck on foods for six months, like I got stuck on red beans and rice. It's weird things, weird sides. That's kind of what we're getting known for. It's the natural evolution of how I eat. I don't go home and have a three-course meal. I'm playing with a 12-cheese mac and cheese. We just dump everything in the pot. I'm working on a butternut-squash salad and this watermelon, basil and feta salad. I had a dream that we ran out of something for catering and used feta. The next morning I tried it, and now people come here just for that. It's strange, but it works.
What's one food you hate? I don't like freshwater fish like catfish. I've never found a freshwater fish I liked. When I was a kid, I got a bone stuck in my throat. I just don't like fishy fish.
What's your favorite local ingredient? Morels. When I was in Paris, everyone kept asking me about morels. It's so rare and unique. That and Maytag blue cheese. You can put it up against any other blue cheese. It's fun having it so close because you don't think of the Midwest as blue-cheese country. And now that we're coming in to late spring and early summer, it's fresh corn on the cob and peaches and cream.
What's always in your kitchen? Weird stuff like cottage cheese. I don't keep things. I spend a lot of time at the grocery store on the way home. I'll walk up and down the aisles and buy what I want for dinner that night. There's a bunch of condiments: Indian curries, pastes, caramelized onions, shallots, sriracha and fish sauce.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal? The peanut sauce at Pho KC.
Who's got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? It's so generic, but Arthur Bryant's for the history. I like the history and ambience of Bryant's store. But I'd probably prefer the short end ribs at Gates. I'm having the beef sandwich at Bryant's. I'd go Gates for extra crispy fries and lots of pickles at Bryant's.
A chef is only as good as ... his last plate.