Krokstrom Klubb & Market has become a Kansas City staple in just two short years since opening in February 2016. Owners Katee McLean and Josh Rodgers drew upon McLean's Scandinavian upbringing for the concept, and McLean serves favorites like smørrebrød, smoked fish, lefse and Aquavit cocktails.
McLean has been cooking since she was in diapers, so it's no surprise her food is earning so much acclaim. We caught up with her to hear about Krokstrom's new event space, opening later this year, as well as her favorite spots in Kansas City, dim sum breakfast and the importance of acidity.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? I really like cooking with fennel. It’s so versatile. I do desserts with it; I can do it raw, braised, I make jam out of it. I’ve kind of used it like an onion replacement, where anything you can use an onion for, I used fennel for.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Acidity is kinda the secret thing that I always add to everything; it’s that vinegar element. It makes a dish that could be heavy or too rich or too over the top brighter and lighter and not so heavy. Acidity, especially vinegars, can be that thing that sets a dish apart.
What's your perfect day of eating in Kansas City? That’s a tough one. I love ABC Café. I went to school in Hong Kong for a little while, and having that dim sum breakfast is one of those things that I miss and that I love to do. [My boyfriend] Josh and I love bouncing around town. We don’t really eat at one place – we’ll have a bite here and a bite there and kinda graze our way through town. Bistro 913’s poke is one of those dishes that I just crave and it’s on our list of, “We’re in the neighborhood, so let’s have some poke.” And we love The Bite; The Bite’s our go-to weekly lunch item. If we were gonna stay at home and relax for dinner, I would do Leo’s Pizza.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? There’s definitely a lot more restaurants opening at a quicker rate than I’ve seen in the last five years, so it’s definitely picking up. I think [diners] are trying to be more adventurous, and chefs in town are trying to push the palates of people a little faster, which I appreciate. It’s kind of hard to get a meat-and-potatoes and barbecue town to accept other cultures, and it’s changing really quickly, and that’s really exciting for me. There’s different neighborhoods that are changing really rapidly and getting a really cool food scene; you can go to an entire neighborhood and not leave, and I kinda like that.
Who are Kansas City chefs or restaurant owners you admire at the moment? Anourom Thomson of Anousone's Mobile Cuisine, being able to do Laotian food in Kansas City. I love the culture aspects – the items that chefs are making that are really unique, and stepping out of bounds and not doing the same concepts. I’m ready for some change and some unique food in this town. In St. Louis, my favorite chef right now is Rob Connoley. He’s so talented. He does some foraging and unique fermentation, and he’s really changing the bounds of what I think food and cooking can be in the Midwest.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Kansas City? More cultures, definitely – more authentic-style cuisine. I think it’s time for some unique foods, and I’ve been excited for more traditional. Manila Bay [Ihaw Ihaw] is one of my favorite restaurants, and chef Norma [Thayer] is incredibly talented in Filipino cuisine, so it's nice to have that represented. Some authentic Korean food would be great to have in town. There’s a few in Overland Park, but it would be nice to have some in the Kansas City metro area. Mesob [Restaurant] is wonderful. The chef at Mesob [Cherven Desauguste] is doing Ethiopian and Caribbean [food], and I think that’s very exciting. So more things along those lines – people showing traditional foods from where they’re from. Chef Remy [Ayesh] at Café Sebestienne has been doing Lebanese-style food, which is where her family is from, her father, and I love that – being able to showcase who you are, where you are, where you’re from. It tells a story; it’s more than just eating a meal. It’e entertaining and cultural and you get to learn something.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? It’s usually something quick. Usually I’ll start something at work and bring it home, and that’s what we’ll have at home. If I’m working on a new menu, that’s what we’ll eat at home, if I’m testing new recipes on Josh. And I do a lot of Asian cooking at home. I love all the recipes and things I learned in Hong Kong and Singapore, so I cook those at home just for the two of us.
What's your favorite comfort food? Everything potato. Being Scandinavian born, there’s always potatoes everywhere, and fresh fish. My family always had awesome fish, and we have a place in the Ozarks. Having some fried fish and some awesome home-fried potatoes would probably be one of my favorite, tastes-like-Mom-and-Dad kind of thing.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Cook in large batches and save things for later; put them in the freezer. If I make a stew or a soup or any sauce, I put it into to-go containers and freeze them and then on the days you don’t feel like cooking – I don’t have money, I don’t want to go out to eat, it’s cold, or too hot, you don’t wanna get out – you can pull that out of the freezer and have an awesome home-cooked meal that you made yourself, without having to eat the leftovers for three days. I hate leftovers! But when you have leftovers a few weeks later when you’re not tired of that dish, it’s perfect.
What's your first food memory? There’s a picture of me in diapers making potato bread with my dad. I don’t remember it, but I’ve seen the picture a million times. My first food memory would be making Swedish meatballs with my dad and my cousin for a big charity church event. I had my elbows all the way to my shoulders covered in mustard and meat, mixing this giant bowl of meatballs. I remember just being so grossed out, but then when we cooked them, I couldn’t stop eating them, to the point where I got completely sick from so many meatballs. [Cooking is] ingrained in my blood!
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? I’ve been trying since before I opened, and I guess my whole life, to find a way to make lutefisk edible. My family would always have lutefisk. It’s a salted cod that’s reconstituted with lye. It kind of looks like jello in a fish form, and it tastes like jello in a fish form. They cover it with this butter sauce and mashed potatoes, and it’s just mush on mush on mush. I’m like OK, what can I do with this product? What do they do traditionally? I’ve made different soups with it, and it’s OK, but it’s not something I think people would write home about. So I researched what the origin of lutefisk and salt cod, what its purpose was. I found out that basically most of the salt cod in Scandinavia is exported to places like France, Italy and Spain and they use that salt cod for their traditional dishes, like [Spanish] bacalao, or [French] brandade, is made from salt cod, which in Scandinavia they turn into lutefisk. So I loved the idea of doing a lutefisk brandade where you whip the salt cod into the lye and let it soak and whip it with cream and unfiltered grapeseed oil and rutabaga and all the spices you would put in a traditional lutefisk dinner into this dip to make it more approachable and fun. I think I’m gonna put it on the next menu.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? I take 100 percent of the true recipe and I say OK, this is how they eat it, this is the recipe from my grandma or someone else’s grandma or some old book. And we make it and we taste it and we say, "Well that sucked," or, "It was great." Sometimes we make something and we’re like wow, it doesn’t need anything – I understand why it’s a famous dish in that country. But sometimes you taste it and it’s like, this leaves a lot to be desired. And that’s when the fun part happens – when you get to say, what are the parts we like, what parts are important, what parts do we need to respect and what parts do we take away?
What are your future plans? We have a very busy year set up. The restaurant just hit our two-year mark in February, and we decided to take over the event space upstairs from the restaurant. It hasn’t been touched since like the 1970s. It’s a beautiful grand ballroom wedding venue, so I’m so excited to open an event space and be able to do large parties and private parties and weddings too. I'm hoping to be able to have it open by fall. We’re still working on some details on that, but I’m pretty excited. We’re [also] in negotiation to do the Parlor Food Hall that’s opening in the Crossroads. I’m gonna take the Scandinavian street-food concept to the Crossroads, so it’ll be a lot of sausages, traditional street food, late-night snack food items, so I've been playing with a lot of those recipes lately. After that, I don't know! That’s the immediate. I'd love to do a lot more. I think being stagnant makes me bored and I get tired, and I like to keep things new and fresh and changing.
Krokstrom Klubb & Market, 3601 Broadway, Midtown, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.599.7531, klubbkrokstrom.com