Kansas City Food Stars: James Taylor of La Bodega

How a single trip to Barcelona changed the Kansas City food scene forever.

For restaurateur James Taylor, Dec. 7, 1998, is a date to be remembered. It’s the day La Bodega’s original location on Southwest Boulevard first opened its doors, introducing authentic Spanish cuisine and tapas to a restaurant scene that hadn’t yet embraced the concept.

How does someone with no Spanish heritage become enamored with a country and its cuisine? In Taylor’s case, it stemmed from a trip to Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. The visit gave him a chance to experience the food and country with which he, quite simply, fell in love. After returning to Kansas City, Taylor befriended a group of Spaniards that attended area colleges, including Baker University. One of them, Albert Comas, is still a close friend—and also the voice of La Bodega’s radio ads.

On subsequent trips to the country, Taylor soaked up the culture and learned to cook its traditional dishes. It was during the time he spent in the kitchen with a Spanish friend’s mother that Taylor developed most of La Bodega’s menu. “I might not be from Spain, but we’re authentic,” he says. Asked which dishes are his favorites, Taylor names the pimiento rellenos de piquillo and the bacon-wrapped dates, which he describes as “meat and date candy.”

Dining at La Bodega isn’t just about sampling and savoring authentic Spanish food—it’s about a style of eating and culture, Taylor says. He becomes more enthusiastic as he explains.

“Getting people together around food creates socialization while the wine binds—and we find the opposite mentality in the U.S.,” he says.

Take, for example, the culture and traditions in San Sebastian, Spain. “The whole town shuts down at 1 p.m. and you go to the cathedral,” he says. “All of a sudden, it’s like Mardi Gras with people going from tapas bar to tapas bar. They meet the same people at the same time and get their news, sports and information by talking to each other. That’s how they socialize, and that’s why tapas is a way of life.”

At La Bodega, Taylor says, the goal isn’t simply to mimic these cultural traditions that define and unite a country—it is to live and celebrate them.

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