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One Great Chef: Colby Garrelts

One Great Chef: Colby Garrelts

In doing a bit of research on Colby Garrelts, I found his recipe for chipped beef on toast with white gravy.  My navy guy dad called it s*** on a shingle, and my mom made it from packaged dry beef and cream of mushroom soup.  He wouldn’t eat it but we kids liked it though we couldn’t call it what he did. Colby’s recipe has 16 ingredients, and reading it, I immediately wanted to make it.  Or rather, I wanted to order it. But it did make me go buy his second cook book, Made in America.  

You probably already know all of Chef Garrelts’ credentials: a 2013 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Midwest award winner, 2005 Food & Wine’s Top 10 Best New Chefs, author of two cookbooks (with semi-finalist Outstanding Pastry Chef, wife and co-owner Megan), semi-finalist Outstanding Restaurant for Bluestem in 2018, the third time on this prestigious short list, and all kinds of showcases and awards in various magazines.  The couple opened Bluestem way back in 2004, the first Rye in Leawood in 2012 and its Plaza location in late 2017.  As Colby put it, high concept Bluestem was his 20s, comfortable, more home-style Rye is his 40s.

It’s a remarkably hectic life, running three restaurants.  Colby laughs and says with the three, a wife, two kids, Colin age 7 and Mady 10, a home in which he often cooks, his dad’s farm in Linn County where he tries to grow veggies, he is “pinballing” through life, barely able to get in his favorite bicycling.  But there’s lots to keep him happy, those kids and wife primarily, as well as a great food community here. He notes that Kansas City is full of people doing wonderful food and working their butts off – he wants to help ensure that they stick around. He and wife go everywhere new they can but they also have favorites like Ragazza now at 43rd and Main, Corvino’s, Port Fonda, Michael Smith’s, Novel and lots more.  If an out-of-towner wants a recommendation for KC food, after his own place and Kansas City Joe’s, he suggests taking a trip down the Boulevard to all the Mexican restaurants or trying other ethnic restaurants scattered all over town. He and his family are eclectic eaters. 

While Garrelts was a student at Shawnee Mission East, he worked in a diner and at the Long Branch.  His best friend was going to JCCC in the culinary program; Colby decided to join him because food was what he knew.  Then he moved to Chicago and for a few years worked at some very well-known restaurants like Tru (where he met wife Megan) until he, “. . . got to the point where I didn’t want to work for other chefs.  I wanted to make a name for myself with great food and service, and I wanted to do it with my family around me.”  That’s when he returned to Kansas City – and now he also finds himself in the opposite place of where he once was at Tru or The American Restaurant – younger wanna-be’s now want to come to his restaurant to learn more and then take their newer skills and experiences onward and upward.  This culinary mentorship is rewarding in its own way he admits.
I asked Chef his favorite thing to eat at his restaurant. He didn’t go first to Bluestem where he knows he can really express his ideas in food.  He talked about Rye which is everything he wants to eat on a typical night.  Or breakfast – the Plaza has breakfast, he exclaims. “Our burnt ends.  Meg’s pies. Fried chicken, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why we did it.” 

And now he says, “Megan and I want to build a lasting restaurant, one that’s comfortable, homey, welcoming.  I just want to make people happy and have them enjoy our food.”  

So maybe he’ll put that chipped beef on toast on the menu for me?

Rye Plaza
4646 JC Nichols Parkway 
Kansas City, MO 64112 
Ph. 816-541-3382 

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