Executive Chef Ryan Sneed of KC Hopps gently rests pieces of roast duck confit atop a bed of dressed salad greens. He arranges roasted potatoes and pieces of goat cheese to complete the dish. Duck confit salad is one of several new dishes created by Chef Sneed specifically for 2015 Kansas City Restaurant Week (January 16-25). The dishes will appear on KC Restaurant Week menus at all KC Hopps restaurant locations.
KC Hopps owns and operates 14 upscale-casual restaurants in the Kansas City and surrounding areas. Chef Sneed oversees the kitchen operations for all of the 75th Street Brewery, Barleys Brewhaus, The Blue Moose Bar & Grill, 810 Zone Sports Bar & Restaurant, and O’Dowd’s little Dublin locations. When Sneed began developing a special KC Restaurant Week menu that would be prepared at these many venues, he had to consider multiple factors.
“My first consideration is our normal menu. The challenge is to duplicate this special menu seven times across venues,” says Sneed. “I want to use familiar but interesting ingredients.”
For example, he might use truffle oil with pasta instead of more expensive shaved black truffles found in fine dining dishes. He also took into account ingredients already used at the restaurants, food costs, cooking preparation, time, and technique as well as what appeals to current clientele. Smoked cheddar mac-and-cheese croquettes served on a spicy roasted tomato sauce, a current popular item on the Blue Moose menu, will appear on the KC Restaurant Week menu at all venues. However, most items will be new dishes design to appeal to regular customers and newcomers.
Sneed says, “The second consideration is people. KC Restaurant Week attracts foodies and people that seek value while supporting the cause.”
Special prix-fixe menus at participating restaurants run $15 for multi-course lunches and $33 for dinners. Donations raised during the 2015 event will benefit BoysGrow, Children’s Center for the Visually Impaired and Cultivate Kansas City. The Kansas City Regional Destination Development Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association Education Foundation will again receive a portion of the donations, as well.
“I had to design a menu that didn’t clash with the regular menu. Creating a new menu is fun. We work with new and existing ingredients,” says Sneed. His menu will be an extension of the upscale casual and ethnic fare familiar to customers at KC Hopps restaurants. “We’ll already be shifting from a fall to winter menu, so I plan to use ingredients like duck breast and scallops.”
He also points out that these more sophisticated ingredients create an opportunity to teach the kitchen staff some refined culinary skills on how to prepare them.
On a recent Thursday, chef Sneed demonstrates his preparation of less-formal lunch dishes in the kitchen of Barley’s Brewhaus. He marinates shrimp in cilantro, lime, and agave and then lightly fries them. Next, he stuffs the crisp shrimp into a corn tortilla for his version of a street taco. Sneed adds a dash of spicy chipotle aioli and pickled red onion, jalapeno, and carrots. Served with chipotle rice, black beans, and lime, the tacos are filling and pack contrasting flavors and textures into each bite.
His twist on Vietnamese banh mi with a side of fries begins with slicing and toasting a section of local Farm to Market baguette. Sneed points to the bread’s interior and says, “Look at the honeycomb on that bread.”
The perfectly baked bread is stuffed with a custom blend of baked pork and beef meatballs and pickled vegetables. A dollop of sriracha mayonnaise adds a spicy kick.
In addition to the local bakery, Sneed uses regional vendors such as Creekstone Farm in Dodge City, Kansas, for beef and pork products from Burger’s Smokehouse in California, Missouri.
Next, Sneed rubs thick slabs of bacon with chili powder, cumin, and coffee. He sears the slabs in a pan to render the fat. Once crisp, he removes the bacon and sears scallops in the same pan, basting them with bacon fat for added flavor until they caramelize and brown. The assembled dish, pairing bacon and scallops with butternut squash puree studded with grated carrot, is a triumphant union of land and sea.
Sneed demonstrates how he uses duck a second way for a pasta dish. First, duck is roasted with a mirepoix of carrots, celery, onions, and fresh herbs. Later, he makes a rich duck ragu with generous portions of duck meat, pan juices, and stock. The final dish combines the ragu with wide ribbons of pappardelle pasta and garnishes it with pecorino cheese.
Anyone with room left in their belly will contend with the decision of polishing off dessert. Chef Sneed’s coup de grace is a duo of vanilla and Nutella gooey butter cake nestled against a cloud of vanilla mascarpone. A bright schmear of raspberry coulis adds color and a tart pop to counter the sweetness.
The assembly of dishes achieves the well-rounded balance that Chef Sneed sought when he developed this menu.
Kansas City Restaurant Week is sponsoring a series of posts about the menus and food of restaurant week, which runs from January 16 through January 25, 2015. The Recommended Daily is a Silver Sponsor of KCRW.[Images by Pete Dulin]