Food & Drink

Whiskey, Wood & Wine

When a creative pioneer comes to town, you show him the artisanal heartbeat of KC’s culinary culture.

Story by Kimberly Stern  |  Photos by Chandra Ramey

The email arrived in February without fanfare, bells or whistles. Reading it, first with disbelief and then excitement, finally a wave of gratitude sweeping over me, I arrived at my senses. Along with KC Magazine Executive Editor Katie Van Luchene and an intimate group of journalists, I was invited to join one of the 21st century’s most important avant-garde chefs, Ferran Adrià, on Sunday, March 29, for an urban foraging adventure.

Immediately I conjured visions of scouring the West Bottoms for edible plants and grasses that the world’s most celebrated chef would transform into dishes marked by his style of gastronomic innovation.

Instead, Kathleen Leighton, manager of media relations and video production for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art—where the groundbreaking exhibit, “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity; Visualizing the Mind of a Master Chef,” runs through Aug. 2—outlined an afternoon of crisscrossing the East and West Bottoms. On the schedule: Visits to notable Kansas City artisans J. Rieger and Co. Whiskey, Local Pig, Happy Gillis and Amigoni Urban Winery, along with stops at Urban Provisions General Store and Haw Contemporary Gallery. Catherine L. Futter, the Louis L. and Adelaide C. Ward Senior Curator of European Art at The Nelson-Atkins, would join us for her perspective on how Spanish chef Adrià, the mastermind behind the restaurant elBulli, transformed the art of food into an art form all its own.

Left: Nelson-Atkins Executive Director Julián Zugazagoitia and Adrià pause in the sculpture garden. Right: Chef Ferran Adrià relaxes at Alex Pope’s Local Pig in the East Bottoms.

The day began at The Nelson-Atkins, watching Adrià, his wife, Isabel, and translator Sofia Perez explore Robert Morris’s Glass Labyrinth in the south section of the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. Museum Director Julián Zugazagoitia led the trio—still shaking off jet lag after arriving in KC only hours before—through the structure, pointing out its complexity, pausing to share a private laugh with Adrià.

The four emerged from the acclaimed piece of art, smiling and nodding at the clutch of note-taking, picture-snapping writers, editors and photographers gathered to record the momentous occasion. It was when a young man who recognized Adrià and approached him with reverence and salutations that I truly understood: This Is A Big Deal.

Adrià’s unofficial status as a pied piper was repeated throughout the day as people flocked to see him as a result of social media notifications or by pure happenstance. Joan (he’s Catalan, from Barcelona) and Cynthia Planet, River Market residents, raced to Local Pig when they saw word of Adrià’s visit on Instagram. She visibly swooned when the chef broke away from the entourage to explore Alex Pope’s wonderland of butchery. Adrià graciously posed with the couple, matching their ear-to-ear grins.

Michael Amigoni, owner of Amigoni Urban Winery, and Spanish chef Ferran Adriá enjoy a glass of wine during an urban foraging expedition.

It was only during a spontaneous, whirlwind City Market tour that we encountered someone unfamiliar with the small, intense man dressed head-to-toe in black, wearing Royals blue sneakers, arms crossed, brow furrowed as he examined spices and rows of produce. “Who do you suppose that is?” remarked a vendor to a customer as our group trailed behind Adrià. “He must be someone important.”

Adrià listened intently as artisans enthusiastically presented their products. In the East Bottoms, Ryan Maybee and Andy Rieger’s tale of resurrecting a KC classic whiskey; Pope’s passion for the age-old tradition of butchery; Savannah Northcraft of Urban Provisions introducing Tim and Laura Tuohy of Kansas City Canning Co.; Abbey-Jo and Josh Eans serving a three-course lunch at Happy Gillis with locally-sourced foods. The day wrapped in the West Bottoms with a tour of Bill Haw Jr.’s Haw Contemporary gallery and a group toast hosted by Michael and Kerry Amigoni at Amigoni Urban Winery.

Chef Adrià and the urban foraging group visited Urban Provisions General Store where they enjoyed artisan products from Kansas City Canning Co. Happy Gillis owners Abbey-Jo and Josh Eans prepared a three-course lunch.

“Today we have experienced a slice of Kansas City with chef Adrià,” Zugazagoitia beamed, standing in the custom framing shop at Haw Contemporary. “We drank whiskey, now we are standing amongst wood, and we’re about to enjoy wine. It’s quite wonderful, isn’t it?”

Sunday, March 29, 2015: I will remember it as deliciously surreal, rubbing shoulders with an iconic genius, watching him eat lunch at Happy Gillis with gusto, raising a glass to fellow creatives, feeling the pulse of KC’s artisanal heartbeat through his eyes.

Another stop made during the March urban foraging trip included whiskey tasting with Ryan Maybee and Andy Rieger at J. Rieger & Co. Distillery.

For more information on the Adrià exhibit, visit