Kara Anderson already had quite the resume when she joined The Sundry as executive chef. She worked as sous chef under Howard Hanna at The Rieger, and was on the opening team of The Restaurant at 1900 after a stint in Portland, Oregon.
At Ryan Wing's beloved breakfast and lunch café and market, which relocated from the Crossroads to the Plexpod in Westport Commons, Anderson focuses on making farm-to-table dishes more accessible with a fast-causal model and lower price points.
We caught up with the Centralia, Missouri, native to chat about empanadas, pancakes and that time her mom gave her a spoonful of baking powder.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? My favorite ingredient right now is probably vinegar. I have a lot of pickles on the brain, currently, and I’m thinking a lot about preservation and methods for preserving. We're kind of in the shitty part of winter, so my mind is [thinking about] next summer and how I can get things preserved for the following year.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique/gadget? I think more and more my secret weapon is going back to the things that my grandmothers and my mom and my aunts and my family cooks. I think a lot more often I turn to those ingredients that are comforting, things like butter and lard – cream cheese, a lot of times, for me. It’s kind of like my family’s secret ingredient, and so I turn more to those things – memories from my childhood and those ingredients that make me think warm and comforting thoughts.
What's your perfect day of eating in Kansas City? Breakfast would probably be coffee at Quay Coffee at the Nelson-Atkins [Museum of Art], which is a nice little jaunt. In my perfect day it’s spring or summer, not snowmaggedon outside! So coffee for sure. I like to kind of bounce around and not really eat entrées anywhere, more lots of little snacks. I like Rye on the Plaza for breakfast or brunch and maybe a morning cocktail. I really have been enjoying a lot of the spaces in Parlor, so I’d probably head over there for another snack. Rachel [Rinas] at Karbón – her empanadas are amazing. Then Poi-õ, that just opened up, for some chicken, and let’s see. I’d probably end up at The Rieger. They have a charcuterie board on the menu that's always incredible. That’s quite a bit for the day, but maybe Ça Va for a late-night snack and a glass of Champagne. Though I’d be very full and done for the day!
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? I think there’s more emphasis on building a relationship with local farmers, and not just the idea of farm to table. Building a relationship with farmers, so that chefs can talk with them and say, "These are the ingredients I’m excited about and I want you to grow," and then the farmers being able to tell us, "These are the ingredients I have, I need people to buy them to sustain my farm," or "These are the things I'm interested in growing, can you use them?" More and more, I’m seeing those conversations happening and this relationship evolve from us buying ingredients from farmers, to seeing what we can do on both ends to make that relationship stronger and better for both of us, and ultimately a better guest experience in the restaurant.
Who are some Kansas City chefs you admire at the moment? I mentioned Rachel already at Karbón in Parlor. I think her food is delicious. I really love Novel. I think Ryan [Brazeal] and Jessica [Armstrong] both are doing really great things, and every meal I have there is incredible and inspiring in different ways. Adam Yoder is the chef de cuisine at The Rieger. He has a really great way of thinking about food and has put a lot of really interesting and delicious dishes on the menu there.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Kansas City? I really wish that Kansas City had a [bigger] food truck scene. I really miss that coming back here from Portland, Oregon. I miss being able to grab literally any type of cuisine I could want within 10 minutes and have a bowl of noodles or an egg sandwich or ice cream at your fingertips in whatever neighborhood you’re in. Specialty food trucks tend to have a small menu, and they do four or five things really well, and I think Kansas City could benefit from that easy, accessible food that’s done really well and opens you up to different dining experiences.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? My son is almost 5 now, so I make a lot of pancakes at home [laughs]. We’re big fans of pancakes. I make a lot of soups – chicken noodle soup, tomato soup, things that can be started in the morning and go all day while we’re at home and then the house smells really good and cozy. I’m a big fan of any tomato dish that’s baked with eggs – eggs in purgatory, shakshuka, those things are staples at my house right now.
What’s your favorite comfort food? My favorite comfort food is probably these salted chocolate chip cookies that my mom used to make when I was a kid. There’s something [about] the crispy bottom of a really good chocolate chip cookie – [it’s what] I make for myself when I need a little pick-me-up.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Use more butter and salt than you think that you need in every recipe.
What's your first food memory? I remember my mom making dinner, and I was sitting on the kitchen counter. I remember asking about things, and her giving me spoons with every ingredient so I could taste what she was doing. She was letting me try everything. I think she might have been making biscuits. She put like, the flour on a spoon and let me try what that tastes like. I remember taking the baking powder and being like, “Ugh! That’s disgusting!” and she was like, "Yeah, it’s not good right now, but it’s gonna make good biscuits." So I have really strong ties to that – a mouthful of baking powder and building that curiosity about the ingredients she was using.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? We recently put bierocks on the menu, and I think bierocks are one of those comfort foods for me, and they make sense in the winter because they’re pretty hearty. I find it interesting that [many] people haven’t seen them on a menu or have never had them. We get a lot of questions about them, and a lot of people aren’t familiar, so that’s always nice to be able to talk more with the guests about food and introduce them to something new.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? Currently at The Sundry we have a huge focus on what we can use that’s local, that’s sustainable, so a lot of times when I’m writing menu items, I start with things I have and what I can put together using those things. Right now, it’s like, what can I get that’s been cellared? Our menu is more protein-heavy in the wintertime, based on the fact that you can get hogs or chickens or turkeys any time of the year. I start with the ingredients I have and start to figure out what that could look like. Since we just do breakfast and lunch currently, a lot of that is like, what kind of sandwich would be good with this? Can I take this to my desk as a to-go option?
What are your future plans? I’m not 100 percent sure. I think ultimately the goal is to open my own place, but I’m not sure what that looks like. I’ve thought a lot about going the bed and breakfast route. I’m very attracted to the idea of creating a whole experience for someone, and bed and breakfast is a very romantic notion. I'm also attracted to these smaller places popping up that are food stalls, or more of that food truck concept but in one location, ‘cause I think that’s a really attractive way to focus on a specific thing and get really good at it. And outside of cooking, the more that I am in South Hyde Park and live in this neighborhood and spend a lot of time in metro KC, I’m more intrigued by things that are happening in our community and how the culinary [industry] can get more involved with that, and me as a chef, how can I get more involved with things happening in our neighborhoods.
The Sundry, 300 E. 39th St., Westport, Kansas City, Missouri, thesundry.com