Jon Watkins, Executive Chef, Baked in Kansas City

Jon Watkins, Executive Chef, Baked in Kansas City

Baked in Kansas City occupies the former Napoleon Bakery, a beloved Westport destination for pastries. Frank Sebree, owner of The Majestic Restaurant, and his wife were devoted fans of Napoleon Bakery. They lamented the area’s lack of quality bread and baked goods and The Majestic needed a high-volume supplier of such, so Sebree leased and renovated the space. The artisan bakery reflects Sebree’s love of patisseries encountered during time spent in France, but also includes expanded bistro dining. Sebree hired executive chef Jon Watkins in mid-2014 to take the bistro to the next level.

Tell us about your culinary background. I started cooking while in college and worked at 75th Street Brewery [in Kansas City]. The chef liked me, taught me about techniques, ingredients and menu building. Later, I worked with chef Brad Rishmany and chef Matt Woods at Mestizo as a line cook for two years, where I learned how to use fresh ingredients with good execution. I began researching food and watching videos of David Chang and Thomas Keller. I opened 801 Fish and learned about fresh fish and fine dining. Then my seafood vendor told me about Baked in Kansas City.

How did you approach the concept of a French-influenced bistro? Frank wanted a straight bistro with dishes like coq au vin and steak au poivre, but I also try to take the familiar and present it in a new way. One of my appetizers is a pork belly-espresso persillade. I use espresso grounds and breadcrumbs for a crust that has tons of flavor and adds a textural element. I want to develop our brunch and unleash my creativity. When you cook, you have to be yourself and cook with flavors you love.

How do you coax flavor out of ingredients? I use fresh herbs to elevate dishes. I do an oil-poached halibut and infuse the oil with dill or basil. It’s the little intricacies that make the job fun. When I develop a recipe, I ask, “How can I add more flavor and strike a balance?” This summer, I pickled 30 pounds of tomatoes, wax beans and onions in a light brine. The produce came from Broadmoor Bistro’s garden. You can barely taste the brine. I’ll use the tomatoes to make a winter salad that tastes like summer.

What ingredient do you look forward to cooking with in the fall and winter? Pumpkin. I’m working on a green lentil-pumpkin dish, pumpkin gnocchi and maybe sweet pumpkin confit.

What are your goals as a chef? I’m a no-name chef in a start-up restaurant. The customer reactions are amazing when they come in and try the food. It takes time to build an audience, but I want to push the bistro envelope to include more American-style cuisine as well.

Baked in Kansas City, 706 Westport Road, Westport, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.561.2253, bakedinkansascity.com