Diane Dougherty wins one for the home team.

Mystery Box 

Diane Dougherty wins one for the home team.

The late restaurateur Jasper Mirabile Sr. opened his namesake restaurant (see review) in 1954. The town was filled with independently owned restaurants, many of them with oddball names that, in retrospect, capture the mood and innocence of the era. I wish some of them were still around, like The Flying Saucer, the Spic & Span Café, the Golden Halo Coffee and Sandwich Shop, the Snappy Service Barbecue and the U No Good Eats Café.

I wish a fledgling restaurant owner in 2002 would have the guts to call his or her new place the U No Good Eats Café -- today, it could be the perfect hangout for locals who have self-esteem issues. At the moment, however, the weirdly named restaurant of the week is Forty Sardines (11942 Roe Avenue), which opened June 3. The Overland Park location formerly known as Canuck's, Forks in the Air and the Cast Iron Café is the brainchild of the much-lauded husband-and-wife chefs Michael Smith and Debbie Gold. The restaurant's dinner hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturdays; for reservations, call 913-451-1040.

Another Johnson County-based chef making news is caterer-turned-competitor Diane Dougherty, who won a bronze medal last month after a cook-off with thirteen other U.S. chefs vying for a coveted spot on the American Culinary Federation's "Team USA." Only five slots were open for the National Team USA, which competes in the International Culinary Olympics in Germany in 2004; five positions were also available on the Regional Team. Dougherty was chosen as sous-chef for the regional team, which still involves a lot of traveling and "options for more competition," she says.

Dougherty's journey to the big contest in Chicago was nerve-racking. She nearly pulled out of the event after her 44-year-old husband, Byron, suffered a heart attack in March. "But he insisted I go on," Dougherty says. "He said I had gotten so close; he refused to let me give it all up."

Byron recovered, and Diane went on to face the unexpected. Her turn as a finalist involved much more than preparing a three-course dinner for ten from a "mystery box" of ingredients. Dougherty says she wasn't sure how to react when a crew from the Food Network wired her for sound and hovered over her throughout her three-and-a-half-hour whirl in the kitchen. "I finally had to explain to them that I wasn't able to concentrate on what I was doing," she says.

But Dougherty managed to turn her ingredients -- a whole salmon, three chickens, a duck, mussels and clams, asparagus, tomatoes and potatoes -- into an award-winning meal. She even had a clean kitchen at the finale. "Winning the bronze medal made it all worth it," she says. "I've only been a chef for seven years. I was competing with men who have had twenty-year careers!"

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