Dining

A Cut Above: 4 of KC’s Top Hotel Chefs

Hotel chefs are often unsung culinary heroes—we introduce you to four of KC’s top kitchen ninjas whose backgrounds are as diverse as their cuisine.

Story by Kathryn Greene  |  Photos by Jason Dailey

Oftentimes, hidden away among the glitz and glamour of Kansas City’s most elegant hotels, are the chefs helming in-house restaurants. No longer just places to dine when traveling for business or to make reservations for special occasions, these hotels have upped their culinary games, recruiting kitchen talent worldwide. From modern spots such as The Ambassador Hotel and the Kansas City Marriott Downtown to historic properties such as the Hilton President Hotel and Hotel Phillips, we discover from these executive chefs what sets hotel restaurants apart and where they find inspiration.

Meet four creative chefs whose influences have come from Kansas City and beyond and who have taken hotel dining rooms beyond mundane expense account restaurants and nondescript travel pit stops and turned them into buzz-worthy dining destinations. You just might want to check in for a few hours at these hotels or overnight—breakfast room service is a tasty treat, too.

Kansas City Marriott Downtown’s Metropolitan KC

Vincent Paredes, Chef de Cuisine

One secretly obtained brownie recipe from his mother’s cookbook, a jar of marshmallow fluff and the kind of curiosity only found in children were the trio of ingredients that helped Vincent Paredes, chef de cuisine at Metropolitan KC at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, to realize his passion for cooking at just 8 years old.

One day, Paredes decided to make brownies—a complicated recipe for an elementary school-age chef. He recalls one of the directions requiring marshmallow fluff to be melted down and drizzled over top of the brownies. “I didn’t tell my mom I was doing it, because if I failed I didn’t want her to know.”

Not only did Paredes not fail, but also the treats came out perfect—and he was floored. He has been chasing that initial feeling of pride from dish to dish ever since. One of his favorite aspects of working in a hotel restaurant is the opportunity to tell a story.

Says Paredes, “The Marriott is a big name so we already get a lot of business through travelers … what’s so unique is the fact that we get to tell a story about Kansas City to people who aren’t from Kansas City through our food.”

When it comes to creating new dishes, Paredes receives inspiration from creative talks with the executive chef and sous chef, the rhythm of the seasons, and of course, Kansas City. “I grew up here and graduated from Johnson County Community College’s culinary program. It’s important for me to stay true to KC and modernize different dishes that have been around for years,” says Paredes. “I like to make people think but at the same time keep it familiar, so that it’s a dish that they can relate to.”

His classic comfort food has made Metropolitan KC one of Kansas City’s crowning jewels when it comes to hotel fare—all thanks to the confidence instilled by a perfect batch of marshmallow fluff brownies.

Chef’s Pick: Paredes loves the grilled smoked pork chop with a burnt apple glaze, caramelized onions, sweet pea mashed potatoes and wilted spinach from the Metropolitan KC menu. “The pork chop and the glaze highlight the whole dish.”

The Ambassador Hotel’The Reserve

Shaun Brady, Executive Chef

There are 4,066 miles between The Reserve at The Ambassador Hotel’s Executive Chef Shaun Brady’s native Ireland and Kansas City, a distance not only symbolic of how far he has traveled physically, but also in his career. His grandmother inspired his love of cooking, telling him to “do whatever you want, cook the way you want and don’t listen to anyone else.”

At 16, Brady left his small hometown of Tipperary for the big city of Dublin and worked for several years as a line cook before attending the Culinary Arts program at the Dublin Institute of Technology. After stints in Asia, Greece and Belfast, Brady worked in Chicago for Stephanie Izard, the first female winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

Now in the executive chef seat at the stylish and sexy Reserve—open for breakfast, lunch and dinner—Brady is on a personal mission to make dining in hotels—whether you’ve got a room key or not—as popular as it was several decades ago when freestanding restaurants weren’t as plentiful as they are today. And to help the earnest Irishman achieve his goal, The Ambassador’s owner has given Brady complete creative freedom.

At The Reserve, the menu is served a la minute; showing appreciation for guests is a priority for Brady and his sous chef who venture into the dining room to chat with guests as often as they can. “We try to give them the respect that they deserve, spending their hard-earned money with us. We try to take it over the top.”

Brady personifies a never-back-down attitude, similar to what he admires in the notorious, but famously talented, Gordon Ramsay, whom Brady has met in person and describes as “brilliant,” and Marco Pierre-White, once the youngest chef to be awarded three coveted Michelin stars. “From dive bars to Michelin star restaurants,” Brady says, “I want … to be able to work in any kitchen in the world.” A feat he is accomplishing, one restaurant —and one country—at a time.

Chef’s Pick: Serve up Brady’s native dish with a Midwest twist to the chef at least once a week and he’d be in heaven: steak-and-Guinness-pie. Chunks of slow-braised beef in puff pastry with a mirepoix. “It started off as a special, but when the owner of the hotel tried it, he said, “This has to be on
the menu.”

Hilton President Hotel’s Providence New American Kitchen

Alejandro Diaz, Executive Chef

With a childhood dream to “build something,” Providence New American Kitchen Executive Chef Alejandro Diaz originally planned to attend school to be an architect, even receiving scholarships for programs in the field. But Diaz, a cooking enthusiast since he was 6 years old, instead decided that he would prefer to make memories for people with his culinary talent, ultimately declining scholarships for architecture.

Diaz attended a culinary program in his native Mexico where European professors instilled in him the tenets of success: run a very clean and organized kitchen and keep dishes simple but full of flavor. After graduation, he began his career at the Hotel Registry (now the Waldorf-Astoria) in Naples, Florida, before working for Princess Cruise Lines in San Diego. After honing his craft through the cruise line and at the Confidential Hotel in California, Diaz made his way to Kansas City, channeling his diverse background and experiences into developing the “New American” cuisine at the Hilton President Hotel’s Providence New American Kitchen.

“I feel like the heart of the restaurant right now. I am proud of what I do and I want the people who work for me to be proud of what they do and of themselves,” says Diaz, who credits collaboration with his sous chef, Himesh Zimba, as another ingredient for success.

When it comes to the Providence’s competition, Chef Diaz looks within, scrutinizing himself and always looking to elevate the bar in his kitchen. “I am focused on what I and my employees do. If they are happy, I will have a good product. Our menu is about being creative. You can have meat and potatoes, but you can also be adventurous. There is something for everyone.”

In his current role as executive chef, however, Diaz seems to have realized both of his childhood dreams; he has become an architect in his own right with his artful construction of dishes and menus.

Chef’s Pick: Diaz fancies the S’mores Flavors dessert currently on the Providence New American Kitchen menu: think of a deconstructed version of the campfire staple. “I have a passion for pastry and like the elements of this particular dish, combining hot and cold with molten cake and graham cracker ice cream.”

Hotel Phillips’ 12 Baltimore and Café

Frank Lalumia, Executive Chef

Growing up, Frank Lalumia (pronounced, he says, so that it rhymes with “Mamma Mia!”) would beg to stay with his Italian grandmother, who gave him free reign of the kitchen. In his early 20s, Lalumia was working in a nuclear pharmacy in Houston, but his appetite for cooking had been simmering since the tender age of 4 years old when he would hang out with his nonna. After several years of living in Texas, Lalumia made the decision to go to culinary school.

“There was a point when I thought, ‘What is going to make me happy until I retire?’ And I knew immediately what it was. I’ve always had the passion for food and I always will. I’ve always loved being in the kitchen.”

After seven years in both management and overseeing multiple concepts at Argosy Casino, making the transition to executive chef at Hotel Phillips was the right opportunity that came at just the right time. In fact, he and his wife stayed at the hotel on their wedding night.

“I love the hotel. It is nostalgic, but modern and hip. It was a no-brainer.” In his initial months as executive chef, Lalumia spent time analyzing the demographics of 12 Baltimore’s customers before overhauling the menu, which rolled out in the fall of 2015. Oft-repeated advice from his father—and something he tells him to this day— is “leave well enough alone.”

But when it comes to food, Lalumia always takes it one step further. “I enjoy perfecting a dish and then once perfected, taking it to a different level.” This propensity is reflected throughout 12 Baltimore’s menu, which features classic dishes with Lalumia’s signature twist, such as the Caprese crab cake: jumbo lump crab cakes topped with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese. Luckily for Kansas City, Lalumia still isn’t content with leaving well enough alone.

Chef’s Pick: One of Lalumia’s favorite dishes from the 12 Baltimore menu is the lemongrass salmon picatta: Lemongrass-marinated fresh salmon, lightly grilled with broiled Parmesan on a bed of angel hair pasta, topped with a light citrus picatta sauce. “With the angel hair pasta and the capers, it’s very fresh and the salmon goes well with the flavors in the sauce.”