The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

May 29, 2013

K.C. cafe plates up modern American cuisine, contemporary art

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jennifer Maloney, executive chef at Cafe Sebastienne, credits much of her success at The Kemper Museum for Contemporary Art's signature restaurant to her use of locally grown products, her diverse culinary background and the staff she has assembled at the eatery in her 17 years there.

"We're able to find local ingredients about three quarters of the year," she said. "I start getting seasonal produce around February or March and then I will use that all the way up until November. We are really lucky in Kansas City."

Maloney, who has worked in kitchens in Napa Valley, Italy and the Caribbean, sees fresh ingredients and simple preparation and presentation as the keys to her longtime K.C. success.

"The best thing about buying locally and eating seasonally is the food is going to speak for itself," the Chicago native explained. "I cook very simply. A nice olive oil and a little bit of garlic, and anything can taste good."

Let the ingredients speak for themselves, Maloney said.

"Coming up this season there will be so many berries, squashes, zucchinis and tomatoes," the veteran farm-to-table chef said. "It's not even that different than (what) people in Springfield or Joplin would be making on the farm. Everything we do is seasonal. I do love it when the ingredients speak out. A good oil, some garlic and some salt. It's easy."

Visually appealing

Simple and fresh are keys to good food, she said. She insists great food doesn't have to be complicated.

"Get a nice piece of fish or a nice piece of meat, and let its taste shine through," she said. "We are very lucky to have nice farms (around the area) where we can get nice meat. I cooked a beautiful pork chop from Kansas last night. I just used a little olive oil and some salt and pepper and some rosemary. I cooked it for five minute and that was all it needed."

While proper cooking is essential to her restaurant's success, presentation of the dishes at the museum cafe is a consideration, too.

"I think people eat with their eyes," Maloney said. "I go for color on the plate. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. I don't like to cover it up. When I'm composing a dish on the menu, I like to think about the starch, potato, protein. I still try to think about combining the flavors (to) go together. I want it to be visually appealing, and that it makes sense."

In other words, she wants her food tasty and simple.

"I don't like to build a (food) tower and put 100 different things on it," she said. "I want the dish to speak for itself in the presentation and in your mouth."

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