Megan Garrelts stands at her kitchen counter, sprinkling precisely measured amounts of sugar, orange juice, vanilla and cardamom over a big bowl of fresh strawberries. Megan’s 3-year-old daughter, Madi, stands on a stool beside her, stirring the fragrant ingredients together until a summery, floral aroma fills the air.
Megan’s husband, Colby, stands over the stove, dropping hanger steaks into a poker-hot cast iron skillet. The couple’s 6-month-old son, Colin, chews a rattle as he watches all the action from his high chair.
As the searing steaks hiss, Madi hops off her stool and runs off to watch TV.
“I usually shoo her away when there are knives and heat involved,” Colby says.
Food is their life: Seven years ago, the couple opened Bluestem, a Westport restaurant that has since become one of (if not the) top fine dining establishments in Kansas City. The restaurant’s reputation expands outside the city, too: Colby was named one of the country’s best new chefs by Food & Wine in 2005, and he’s been a finalist for the James Beard Awards’ Best Chef: Midwest for five consecutive years.
In November, the Garreltses will publish their first cookbook, “Bluestem: The Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, out Nov. 8). They say they’re also cooking up a new restaurant — and hope to open it by year’s end — but are keeping the details a secret.
So how do the Garreltses unwind from thinking about and making food? By making more food.
He cooks and she bakes in the kitchen of their Leawood home, which isn’t exactly fit for top chefs. It’s got off-white laminate countertops, an electric stove and a small island fitted with a built-in grill that doesn’t really work.
They moved to Leawood from Brookside a year ago, mainly to be closer to family. The couple plans to build a deck and landscape the yard before overhauling the kitchen with marble countertops, industrial appliances, a hanging pot rack and a sturdy butcher’s block on the island.
But for now, the kitchen works. It’s open enough to fit the farmhouse-style dining room table where the family eats most meals. The formal dining room around the corner, with its rich burgundy walls and cabinet stocked with china and wine glasses, is perfect for entertaining. So is the living room, with its Bluestem-inspired indigo-and-orange color scheme and chic mirrored accessories.
But this is a home, not a restaurant, and that shows in the food Colby and Megan make.
“Cooking at the restaurant is like a factory where we build a bunch of parts and then put them together at the last minute,” Colby says, adding that he doesn’t cook seven-course meals at home, as he does at Bluestem. He prefers making rustic one-pot meals like osso bucco (Megan’s favorite) or simple dishes made with whatever looks good at the farmers market.
Megan says summer is their favorite time of year. It’s when the Garreltses plant an herb garden and eat perfectly ripe tomatoes with crusty bread and cheese from Green Dirt Farm in Weston. Colby grills over charcoal with a Boulevard Pale Ale in hand, and Megan bakes pies and cobblers with fresh fruit.
Their laid-back Leawood home life is a nice break from Bluestem, the place the Garreltses consider their first home.
“Everyone’s like ‘It’s so vanilla out there (in Leawood),’ ” Megan says, explaining that when you own a bustling restaurant in midtown, “it’s nice to disconnect.”