Talking with Ken Baker
My last heart-to-heart was a few months ago with Celina Tio of Julian, Collection, and The Belfry. The other day I got to spend a little quality time with Ken Baker, Proprietor and Chef at Pachamama’s in Lawrence. I love talking with professionals like him who are articulate, interesting and fun, all at the same time.
First, if you’ve not been to this shiny restaurant for a while, hike on back. It’s got a very cool vibe (how much does that term age me?) and an expanded (Star) Bar and outdoor dining area, should we ever be able to eat outside again. Their happy hour with specials every night is worth the trip alone.
But enough of that. I wanted to know about the man wearing the apron. Turns out he started his own catering business in high school. He was mostly inspired by a neighbor in the food industry from Africa who loved to cook – and gave Ken his first set of knives. After graduating from KU (in political science), graduating from the California Culinary Academy, stints in New Orleans, Australia, New Zealand, Teller’s in Lawrence, and Pachamama’s, he bought the restaurant in 2002. The restaurant moved and certainly reincarnated itself much more glamorously in 2006 to its current location on Massachusetts.
He (mostly) loves being a chef and owner. He told me cheffing is a matter of “being able to create with hands and mind. It’s instant satisfaction – we get results and feedback right away, not six months later in a performance review. I also know that people don’t work for me, they work for everyone who walks in door.”
I like the fact that you can eat here inexpensively, or not. Their burger at happy hour is terrific. Bar food choices are plentiful. You can also be very adventurous – goat, rabbit, duck, homemade sausage. Beautiful food; hearty food; all kinds. Ken likes his specials, especially, and regulars agree with him.
Finally, I asked Ken what he’d say if his now six-year-old son eventually said he’d like to be a chef just like dad. “Get your feet wet. Try the business. It’s really hard work. Terrible hours. Few holidays. Back and feet issues. But the immediacy of your work can be really rewarding. And it’s so creative. I love that.”
800 New Hampshire, Lawrence, KS 66044
One block east of Massachusetts on 8th Street