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A Chef’s Way to Explore a New City

By  Justin Khanna

  A snow  slicked Kansas City skyline greeted me as I walked and explored the Power &  Light District.

Spending my childhood in Wisconsin, it’s easy  for me to write-off many of the stops between Manhattan and San Francisco as  simply more of what I grew up with. My first impressions of the “Heart of  America” served as an incredibly tasty and friendly reminder of how much of  this world still begs for exploration.

During my recent cross-country road trip,  after driving 1,367 miles of open middle-America road, the skyline of Kansas  City was a welcome sight. It actually took a circumnavigation of the  Missouri-side downtown area before I’d find myself extending that first leg  stretch to look up at the sign of Joe’s Kansas City BBQ.

As a chef,  visits to a new city typically start with a meal and I try to find a local  specialty to start the trip to immerse myself and get acclimated.  I always start an itinerary by mapping out  meals I’ve been dying to try and then fit in activities around these locations  and times. This was true for my visit to Kansas City, since I knew I wanted to  see my old colleagues, heed their suggestions, as well as explore within the  short stay.

Underneath that BBQ  sign was a line of eager and hungry smoked-meat lovers (local and otherwise)  waiting the typical 35-55 minutes to place their order. I was promptly joined  by my long-time friend who I haven’t cooked with in years, Colby Garrelts of  Rye and Bluestem to help direct me through the menu. Getting a tour from a  local is always smart, but finding a chef to show you around truly changes the  game.

Between a “Z-Man” sandwich stacked with beef  brisket, crispy fried onions and melted provolone (an order I never would’ve  made without Colby), plus a tray of their famous burnt ends, some tangy and  tender ribs, a slew of sides and their brand-new apple crisp dessert, the city  had already won me over before dinner.

Next up, just downtown, I lit up the 4th floor  button in the elevator in the Crown Center to walk into the incredibly opulent  and grand dining room of The American.

  The multi-tiered dining room at The American  overlooking Kansas City.

Serving as an inviting, James Beard recognized  venue for chefs from all over the world (chefs cooking that night hailed from  Denmark, California, France, Louisiana & DC), more than 100 guests would  enjoy a multi-course experience that night.

Funny enough, Colby would attend that dinner  afterwards with his wife. It served as a striking example of Kansas City  natives engaging with and supporting their local community while also embracing  ideas and inspirations from around the world. It’s a win for the visiting  talent too, being able to showcase their skills to a savvy, engaged and  inspired audience to support the foundation’s continued efforts.

I was wildly eager to see the space in-person,  but after a quick catch-up with the chefs and curators of The American, a quick  glance at my watch revealed there were just 40 minutes before a newly opened  coffee shop on my must-see list would close.
  The butter croissant at Ibis Bakery.

Placing my order for a  cortado with minutes to spare at Messenger Coffee also came with a nutty &  sweet gianduja tart and a butter croissant with layers that shattered under my  fingers from Ibis Bakery.  Both concepts  share a light-filled, multi-tiered space with bright and minimal details, and  the only thing I regret was not showing up earlier to settle in on my laptop  for the afternoon!

I’m fascinated by trendy coffee shop culture  and how frequently a pilgrimage often puts you comfortably caffeinated in a fun  neighborhood. The exploration usually continues nearby from there, although due  to my limited time in Kansas City, I had to get back across town for a  reservation at Garrett’s restaurant, Rye.
  From the moment the meal began, it felt like  dinner at a friend’s home. Warm and attentive service from smiling faces, hearty  plates of southern specialties perfected over years of feeding in and out of  towners, and an atmosphere that oozed a love of hospitality.

Blue crab hushpuppies with spicy aioli to  start next to a basket of sweet rolls and cultured butter. A bowl of heirloom  grits with pulled pork shoulder and tender shrimp came next.  After that, their signature fried chicken  that sparked inspiration in me the last time I cooked with Megan & Colby 3  years ago, surrounded by rich and deliciously seasoned sides. There was a  dessert order of their famous pies, and after a few bites to fill any possibly  remaining spots of hunger, I requested they be packaged for my inevitable snack  craving that would hit while somewhere in Colorado, over 800 miles away.

Leaving Kansas City was hard.  I wanted to continue to learn about the  genuine mix of people, geography and culture that shapes and evolves the city  into a self-sustaining beacon of the Midwest.   Every step of my visit included the hospitality that brings me nostalgia  from my upbringing, and I can only hope to frequently stop-by to remind myself  of that.   Next time though, I’ll plan to  make it longer than an 18-hour pit stop.

As a  Capital One Purpose Project Partner, Justin Khanna will be sharing his  purposeful travel experiences as he ventures across the country with his best  friend. Follow along and share your stories with #MeaningfulMoments.

Find  more tips on how to travel with purpose on the Capital One  Purpose Project Hub, in collaboration with The Points Guy.

About Justin Khanna
  Justin is a Seattle based chef with more than eight  years of training at Michelin-Starred and critically acclaimed restaurants  around the world.  While working abroad,  Justin had the opportunity to travel quite a bit, which truly spurred his  passion for not only seeing the world, but also tasting all the different  flavors. He has experienced some of the best and finest culinary experiences in  the world, which has inspired him to create local dinner experiences to bring  people together over a meal. For more on Justin, check out his website.

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