Changing of the guard
Wichita’s new generation of chefs is young, passionate and earnest, and they’re focused more on sustainability and creativity than their predecessors could be.
Wichita’s “new guard” of chefs are passionate young men and women who are local celebrities.
For them, food is an art, a passion and a career, not just a job. They’re not competitors but colleagues. They’re pumped about local vegetables. They’re friends with local farmers. And they’re leading Wichita on a new culinary course. Read about Travis Russell below; read about more of the new guard here.
Job: Chef/owner at Public, 129 N. Rock Island
Training: “On the job. I have always worked in restaurants while pursuing college degrees in visual art. First In Lawrence and later in St. Louis. I was exposed to the idea of fine dining and culinary arts through the team at Pachamamas in Lawrence. Chef and owner Ken Baker provided a workplace that has incubated some of the best chefs in the Lawrence and Kansas City Area. Later in St. Louis, I was hired to work front of the house at Cafe Osage at Bowood Farms. It was here under the mentorship of Chef David Kirkland that I really immersed myself in our slow foods movement and farm-to-table programming. On the campus of Cafe Osage, we had a city lot garden that kept our cafe sourced onsite.”
Restaurant resume: Pachamamas, Lawrence; Tony’s, St. Louis; Cafe Osage at Bowood Farms, St. Louis
How did you become interested in cooking? “I grew up in my dad’s kitchen at the Brickyard. I graduated in 2007 from Washington University in St. Louis. During the housing crisis, full-time employment in my field and opportunities to utilize my degree were really not available. I continued to teach and work in restaurants part time. When I decided to change career paths, we were presented with the opportunity to open a project alongside our family’s existing business. I knew I wanted to spend time with my family and be closer to home, putting our combined efforts together to create a new restaurant.”
What makes Wichita a special place for dining? “I would say that it’s a combination of location and diverse backgrounds. We are located in the heartland with the opportunities to be around the culture of those that grow food for a living. In addition, we have a diverse influence from Laos, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Mexican cuisine. Also, due to our landlocked geography, we seem to celebrate dining out as entertainment in lieu of other activities that the mountain and coastal regions offer. Here it is really a focus on knowing the history of restaurants and acting in patronage for the places that are loved as generational institutions and having an adventurous spirit to try new concepts and programs as they enter the market.”
One thing you’d like to change about Wichita’s restaurant scene: “I would like the scene to become more inclusive to young chefs, women and chefs of color. I think this is the way to attract talent to the region or to keep and entice homegrown talent to stay or return to Wichita. I really think this comes with educating patrons. There are a lot of options to dine out in the city, and a lot of great artisanal makers, CSAs, etc., but there is little in the way of mainstream support for places that can’t utilize marketing and advertising to their advantage.”
Favorite Wichita restaurant besides your own: “I enjoy many spots. College Hill Deli (3407 E. Douglas). Little Saigon (1015 N. Broadway) is a family favorite. Himali Eats (3238 E. Douglas) and Taco Locale (2721 E. Central, Suite 109) are close by and great. And when I can get time off, I love to dine at Elderslie Farm.”
Your philosophy on your job: “We like to take our cues from ingredients. We rely on our relationships with growers to start with ingredients as origin of a concept, over technique when possible. We feel that sourcing from a network of local producers is paramount to our culinary agenda. Our staff works hard to continuously refine their abilities and they push me to keep up with the learning curve and to be better every day.”
This story was originally published October 31, 2021 12:00 AM.