where town & country collide

Schulte’s imagination tops Bombay Sapphire competition



Sometimes a girl has to get off the farm, and so I headed into town the other night for the Kansas City USBG round of the Bombay Sapphire & GQ Magazine Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. Quite a title, I know, but it was quite a contest.

Ten bartenders from KC, St. Louis and Wichita presented their creations to a panel of judges who scrutinized everything from bottle presentation and competitors’ appearance to taste, aroma and garnish. The drinks were indeed an inventive lot, with ingredients such as basil-lemon zest, curried sweet corn and raspberry-hibiscus syrups; Earl grey, passionfruit and lemon-ginger teas; liqueurs like Suze (bittersweet gentian), Sorel (spiced hibiscus) and SNAP (gingerbread); a new vodka from Kansas’ newest distillery, Wheat State Distilling in Wichita; and a purple carrot reduction, each chosen to enhance one of Bombay Sapphire’s 10 botanicals.

In the end, Brock Schulte of The Rieger eked out a win with his Le Mich: Bombay Sapphire, verjus blanc, honeydew melon juice, black tea syrup and Burlesque Bitters, garnished with a thick, creamy foam made from some kind of seaweed that was more unctuous than foamy. It was delicious enough, and Schulte’s performance impressive enough, to wow the judges and send him to the U.S. finals in Las Vegas in September.

Scott Tipton came in just one point behind Schulte with his Bluebird Jewelep, a riff on the classic mint julep all the more fitting since he’s a bartender at Julep Cocktail Club. His was anything but classic, though. It started with the competition gin, added a pineapple and lemongrass shrub and finished with a mint-Thai basil-absinthe-tea mist that made it hands-down the most aromatic drink of the lot.

Third place and the People’s Choice award went to The Jacobson’s Tom Stein and The Divine, which had so much going on—including a cracked pepper pickled strawberry bring, smoked lemon cordial, Tiki bitters and a sweet mini pepper garnish—and yet came together into a cohesive cocktail clearly appreciated by the crowd.Continue Reading

Dario brings passion, philosophy to KC



It’s not often that you get Dante, AC/DC and the world’s most famous butcher all in one night, but that’s exactly what chef Michael Smith delivered on the first night of a three-day run featuring Dario Cecchini earlier this month. Dario was certainly up to it—in addition to being an eighth generation butcher from Panzano, in Italy’s Chianti region, he also owns three restaurants in his small town.

Now, there are certainly plenty of special dinner events in Kansas City these days, and Smith always puts on a good show. But this one was special, in that I’ve been to Dario’s shop several times and had always wanted to interview the man now known as the world’s most famous butcher. So, I tagged along his first morning in KC, watching as Dario worked the locker at Bichelmeyer Meats, selecting sides of beef and whole hogs for the three dinners and one lunch. (My article about it all ran in the Kansas City Star earlier this week.)

His assistant, Riccardo Ricci, helped, while his wife, Kim, and her daughter, Martina Bartolozzi, looked on. Once Dario had what he needed, he and Riccardo butchered the meat, working quickly and surely to break carcasses down into cookable portions. But even as Dario prepped pork roasts and bone-in ribeye and T-bone steaks, he was eyeing the other cuts displayed in Bichelmeyer’s 60-foot case.

Tripe, pig and ox tails, beef shoulder bones and tongues, ribs and shanks—these are the foods of Dario’s childhood, the meat his grandmother cooked for the family because customers didn’t buy it. She grilled kidneys, made soup from intestines and cured pigs’ trotters (feet). Dario was 18 before he ate his first Florentine-style T-bone steak.

“I’d been dreaming of what that steak might taste like for years,” Dario said as Martina translated. “And when I finally tasted my first juicy T-bone, I said to myself, ‘Really? That’s all there is?’

“That made me realize that all the things my grandmother had been cooking for years were truly exceptional,” Dario said.

And cooking with those tasty but less familiar cuts is exactly how Dario reconciles his carnivorous desires with the moral quandary eating meat presents.

“I need to eat meat, but I have this dilemma of how to do it in a conscious way without guilt,” Dario said. “To beef, or not to beef? It’s important.”Continue Reading

A green affair


I must confess: I love with greens. If it’s leafy and green, I’ll pick it and cook it. Swiss chard is a long-time favorite, and I’ve jumped on the kale bandwagon, too. I’ve braised beet greens, turned leathery kohlrabi leaves into chips and ravaged the sweet potato patch for a skillet’s worth of leaves.

Certainly, greens make for virtuous victuals. Aristotle took note of Swiss chard around 350 B.C., and it’s long been a culinary mainstay throughout France, Portugal, Spain, Greece and the Middle East, according to Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. It doesn’t matter if your chard is green, red or rainbow, it’s a good source of vitamins C and A, as well as iron, the Food Lover’s Companion says.

Kale has all that, plus folic acid and calcium. It’s also what A-Z calls “the most venerable cultivated representative of the Old World cabbages.” Old is sexy, though, and kale’s having its day not only on restaurant plates but in books like Fifty Shades of Kale and Kale: The Complete Guide to the World’s Most Powerful Superfood.

I’ve been growing the Russian red variety, which has ruffled leaves and an almost meaty character, but I’m also fond of lacinato kale. Also known as Tuscan or cavolo nero, its flat compact leaves are perfect for kale chips. Curly kale retains more of its shape and texture while cooked; you can also apparently eat the ornamental or flowering kale sold for landscaping.

The rest are what I consider bonus greens that you wouldn’t ordinarily think to eat but that are delicious. Beet greens carry the earthiness of their roots and will bleed a bit pink as well. Turnip greens are robust and spicy. Both should be saved if you buy a bunch with fresh looking leaves, or clipped judiciously if you’re growing your own. Even sweet potato greens are tender, satisfying and supposedly high in vitamin K. Continue Reading

Apple blossom dreams


Spring isn’t usually considered apple season, but apples have been on our minds for weeks now. Partly it’s because the seeds my youngest collected over the winter have now grown into two-inch seedlings. Partly it’s the bottle of locally distilled apple brandy I came across at Gomer’s. But mostly it’s the blossoms.

Our three trees bloomed for the first time since they went into the ground five years ago, prompting us to lounge lazily on the grass far too long one afternoon, watching bees buzz among the flowers. It’s a hopeful thing, seeing fruit trees in bloom. Each flower promises juicy, crunchy bites; or warm, sweet pie; or the glow you get from sharing food you grew yourself with neighbors. It’s all there, in those delicate petals.

Of course, there’s work to be done before we’ll be able to pick anything. Watering, if this summer’s anything like the last two. Spraying, if the folks who say you can’t produce organic apples in Kansas prove to be right. Thinning immature fruits, assuming there’s enough to thin, so the rest are tastier. And probably hanging insect traps like the ones my mother-in-law makes from old milk jugs and baits with banana peels.

If all that goes well, we might even then—finally—get to find out what each of the three varieties tastes like. The Stark Brothers catalog promised our Enterprise would be red and crisp, “with a spicy aroma and mild tartness.” The GoldRush is supposed to be tart and tangy, and to sweeten with age. Both will be nice enough, I’m certain, but it’s the Cox’s Orange Pippin I’m waiting for. Continue Reading

Asparagus perfection

Pendletons asparagus

Sunshine, a fresh breeze and fields just dry enough to walk through made for a perfect asparagus picking morning recently. That I had little hands along to help only added to my happiness, mostly because it brought back memories of snapping spears with my own mother.

It was a bit different back then. We lived in western Colorado, where farmers burned their wide irrigation canals every spring. Wild asparagus would then shoot up, and we’d scour the sooty banks for the sweet, skinny stalks.

There’s something to be said for such food adventures, but it’s an easier task at Pendleton’s Kaw Valley Country Market, just east of Lawrence. There, you clamor onto the wagon behind John Pendleton’s tractor and he delivers you to whichever part of his 20-acre asparagus field needs attention. Then you pick. And then you’re in heaven.Continue Reading

Feelin’ Irish?

Nothing makes you feel Irish like Irish whiskey, especially when you’re sharing with someone who loves the stuff as much as you do. There are a lot of us out there these days—Irish whiskey sales surged 576 percent between 2003 and 2013, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Last year alone, salesContinue ReadingContinue Reading

Fat Tuesday King Cake

New Orleans has long gripped my imagination. I wish I could credit jazz, architectural history or some other lofty aspect of culture for my fascination, but it really just comes down to the food. The words alone were beguiling enough to the bookworm of a Kansas farm girl that I once was. Etouffée, beignets, jambalaya,Continue ReadingContinue Reading

Why nine miles?

Naming a farm is serious business. Not quite so serious, perhaps, as naming a child, but it’s well worth considering given that you’ll have to live with it for a good long time. We rejected countless ideas in the decade since purchasing this bit of pastoral heaven. Family-ish names, names of favorite flora and fauna,Continue Reading

Eating, drinking and living at Nine Mile Farm

When I launched my first blog, Food Drink Life, in March 2010, I expected to write equally about food, drink and life. But the focus quickly shifted to drink, perhaps naturally so, given that I regularly cover cocktails and spirits for the Kansas City Star. Not that I’m complaining. Kansas City’s cocktail culture has grownContinue Reading