Call it kismet—when Colby Garrelts met Megan Schultz at Chicago’s esteemed Tru restaurant, love bloomed.
Over the years, stints from the Midwest to the West Coast secured their partnership as husband and wife honed their culinary skills to a fine and award-winning cutting edge.
Blessed with a deep well of creative culinary prowess, the couple found their way back to Kansas City in 2004 where they opened their signature fine dining restaurant, Bluestem.
What followed was an avalanche of accolades garnering both local and national acclaim due, in part, to Chef Colby’s multiple James Beard nominations and pastry chef Megan’s highly respected reputation.
Applauded by a loyal following with discriminating taste, the Garrelts decided it was time to share their secrets in a hefty, beautifully written volume, Bluestem: The Cookbook (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $45, Nov. 2011).
Co-authored and photographed by Bonjwing Lee, the book is an imaginative realization of hard work and contemporary taste.
I recently sat down with Colby and Megan to talk about their new venture. Attentive to their two young children bouncing around them during the interview, the couple is focused on their ultimate hope that people try and enjoy the recipes found in their new cookbook.
Gloria Gale: Colby, you always wanted to be a chef—although I understand skateboarding was high on your list growing up—and Megan, you might have been a veterinarian if you hadn’t gone to culinary school. Do you see yourselves growing old in this fickle business?
Colby Garrelts: We do. We’re really suited for the demands of the business. It’s certainly not easy keeping pace but we’ve assembled great teams for both Bluestem and Trezo Vino.
GG: So, you have two restaurants, Bluestem and Trezo Vino, two kids, Madilyn and Colin, and now this cookbook. Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the book and how you manage to fit all this into your burgeoning life?
Megan Garrelts: We were approached by Andrews McMeel Publishing last year. They suggested we write a cookbook for the home kitchen. Colby and I felt this was a good time to tackle the project. It’s a great juggling act but we manage. We live out south but work in Westport. Leawood is a nice counterpoint to Midtown.
GG: What led to the book’s format?
MG: The book is divided up seasonally with 100 recipes. It started off slowly until we figured out a way to test the recipes and write the text. We would test on Mondays, when the restaurant was closed. By the time we got around to writing the winter section, we had the process down cold but at first it was trial and error. The book also includes tips we’ve found helpful plus seasonal wine notes. Our experiences are written into each recipe so people can understand their evolution.
CG: We have literally hundreds of recipes that we culled down. I didn’t want Megan’s pastry creations found only at the back of the book. We expressed an interest to have the book be timely and used year-round. We are usually at the mercy of Mother Nature so the freshest ingredients found at various times during the season are highlighted. It’s no secret; Megan and I are all about celebrating and supporting our local farmers.
GG: Can you talk a bit about Bonjwing Lee, your co-author and photographer?
MG: He is a friend, food writer, photographer and lawyer. His talents are evident in the text and images he’s created.
GG: Perusing the book, while many of the recipes are simple, some are pretty complex. Was that intentional?
CG: I usually have a bunch of ingredients that are seasonal in front of me. I like to create from scratch then build a recipe. While many of the recipes are tried and true, there are a number of new creations. I like to think that people reading the book will try a number of the recipes and decide for themselves what to tackle. As Bonjwing says, “Don’t be intimidated. With a bit of patience and a bit of practice, you can master any of them.”
GG: Apparently Kansas Citians have warmed to your type of fine dining. Was that always the case?
MG: Not at all. It’s always been our intention to have our customers eat interesting food, perhaps by trying something obscure. Trust takes time. Now we are realizing that our customers actually enjoy new flavors. We present interesting dishes from the abundance the Midwest provides but we’re always sourcing new and interesting foods from a variety of regions both near and far.
GG: The food scene in KC is always evolving. How has that impacted you and your restaurants?
CG: It’s tough. Dining, especially fine dining, has really changed over the years. People are far less formal. Casual dining is found everywhere and is more spontaneous. Megan and I want to celebrate the Midwest experience and the abundance around us in a warm and inviting atmosphere. Bluestem is a destination—whether you come for drinks in the lounge or for dinner for the evening, we want our guests to remember the experience.
MG: Most of all, have fun. Cooking shouldn’t be a chore. Whether you’re using this book to entertain friends, to cook for yourself or just to learn about cooking, don’t lose sight of the table. Relax, pour yourself a glass of wine, sit down and enjoy your company. The food will follow naturally.
900 Westport Road, Kansas City, Mo.
(816) 561-1101 | www.bluestemkc.com
Here’s a colorful and delicious recipe from Colby and Megan Garrelts’ new cookbook, Bluestem: The Cookbook. Incorporate this into a winter dinner party—it’s simple to prepare and showcases a popular Midwest ingredient that’s available regardless of the season. Best of all, this salad will be sure to draw raves from your guests.
Beet Salad with whipped blue cheese and candied pecans
1 pound baby beets, trimmed of greens
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces blue cheese, softened
1/4 cup Champagne Vinaigrette
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Candied Pecans
Baby frisee, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Tightly seal the beets, whole, in a large sheet of aluminum foil. If you are using different-colored beets, package the beets separately by color so that the red ones won’t stain the lighter-colored ones.
3. Bake the beets for 40 minutes. To test the beets for doneness, a knife should slip in and out of them without any effort. Let the beets cool. Peel the thin layer of skin from each beet. Cut the beets into quarters. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese on high speed until soft and fluffy, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed. Add the blue cheese and continue to whip, scraping the bowl as needed, until the two cheeses are evenly mixed and fluffy. Season with salt and pepper and whip a little more to incorporate.
5. Toss the beets with the vinaigrette. Toss them separately if using different-colored beets. Divide the beets among 4 plates.
6. Transfer the whipped cheese to a pastry bag and pipe the cheese in small mounds around the beets. Or you can simply spoon the cheese onto the plates. garnish each salad with some pecans and frisee. Serve immediately.
Champagne Vinaigrette Makes about 1¾ cups
With a nice balance of sweet and sour, this is an extremely versatile vinaigrette. At bluestem, we find a place for it in every season.
1 cup Champagne vinegar
¹∕₃ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¹∕₃ cup honey
Combine all of the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl, adding the honey last to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Whisk vigorously until combined. Tightly sealed, the vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Before using the vinaigrette in a recipe, bring the vinaigrette back to room temperature and rewhisk to combine.
Candied Pecans Makes about 1 cup
We always have candied nuts on hand to use as a garnish for everything from salads to desserts. This recipe calls for pecans, but you may substitute any unsalted nut, though the wrinkly ones (like walnuts) give the candied glaze something to cling to. Just make sure that you adjust the baking time according to the size of the nut so that you don’t burn them.
1 cup pecans (about 3½ ounces)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Spray a baking sheet or pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, tossing to coat the nuts with the seasonings and corn syrup (use your hands or a wooden spoon to get everything evenly mixed). Spread the nuts on the sheet evenly so that they don’t touch (clusters will be hard to break up after baking).
Stirring or shaking the pan occasionally to break up clumps, bake the nuts until they turn a deep golden brown and the sugar mixture is bubbling (about 15 minutes). Let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently break the nuts apart if necessary and store them in an airtight container for up to 1 month.