Every part of a chef’s life is calculated artistry — from measuring accurately to designing the “wow factor” of the evening seven times over a multi-course dinner.
The brain of a chef gets on overload, as well as the physical body aches with the hours.
Typically smelling something close to bacon stirred with sweat, the ride home after a successful evening triggers the urge to eat. The likelihood that a chef has eaten a full meal at any given part of the day is slim to none.
There is no want or desire to fix an elaborate dinner when your eyes are burning with sleep deprivation. A chef wants something uncomplicated and satisfying.
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Typically there isn’t a sign of pasta in my house for one reason — I will eat it. On occasion while grocery shopping, an overwhelming craving comes over me. Kraft elbow macaroni and cheese finds it’s way into the cart. Next are heavy cream and a small loaf of Velveta cheese.
Yes, all the processed stuff one could ask for.
Cooking the macaroni with haste I add the remaining ingredients to make it extra cheesy. Then it’s rest time. I keep it on the counter out of eyesight for 10 minutes waiting for the cheese to congeal creating an even creamier texture.
Add about a teaspoon of black pepper on top and I am in heaven. Every bite is enjoyed with a definitive sigh of satisfaction. It is my guilty pleasure food but also brings to light fond childhood memories of cooking with my mom.
Now, at family dinners once everyone has retired to the living room, I finish off every last morsel of macaroni left in the pan. I would like to think the rest of my family doesn’t know this but the ravenous scraping of the sides of the pan with the spoon is far from stealthy quiet.
As a chef, I’ve always wondered if this is the norm — to crave the easiest to make food under the sun. A resounding yes is what I uncovered.
I asked some of Kansas City’s finest chefs what they love to eat after a long day when they are dead tired or a secret food they stash and pull out when the craving becomes to strong.
All of these choices have a tie to comfort, texture, flavor and memories.
Blue Box Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ranks number one.
“There is something in the cheese powder that coagulates slightly after it cools creating a most satisfying texture and brings memories of childhood comfort close to home,” explained Chef Matt Arnold of The Webster House.
It is trip down memory lane for Arnold. After school, his grandma Ruth would fix a big batch but add a few things to make it her own. The actual recipe he has yet to figure out.
Now when a rough day is over, it’s easy pasta time. He makes a box of macaroni and cheese and adds 1 to 2 tablespoon of black pepper to half of it. In the other half, he adds a 1/2 cup of ketchup. His other guilty pleasure, Braunschweiger on white bread with mustard.
Chef Jason Wiggin, Intercontinental Hotel on the Plaza has a similar sinful treat — Stouffers Macaroni and Cheese.
“The extra creamy macaroni and cheese in the freezer section. I hide it in my cart just in case anyone recognizes me. Most likely there will be Lit’l Smokies right next to it. It just reminds me of home.”
For Chef Jasper Mirabile from Jasper’s and Marco Polo’s Italian Market, Kraft macaroni ranks pretty high on his list as well.
“Out of all the great pasta we cook in our kitchen, there is just something about that powdered cheese, and it’s quick and easy.”
Peanut butter and jelly brings Mirabile back to school days. He would only eat PB&J for lunch eight years in a row.
Add to that grape Pop Tarts. Mirabile has been eating these since he was 4 years old. Now he lightly toasts them and shares the edges with his dogs Lola and Teddy.
Not cooking is very appealing to all chefs. Chef Charles d’Abaling from Chaz on the Plaza prefers cheese curds for that very reason.
“They are salty and oh so good. I can put them down a pound at a time.” The texture is awesome.
Texture is a reoccurring theme to these secretive treats. Chef Marshall Roth, Ambassador Wichita.
If you have met Roth, you will know he is Swedish upon impression. So naturally his guilty pleasure food, Swedish Fish. They are not too sticky and they have a soft chewy texture with the right amount of sweetness.
The theme keeps going with Brian Archibald from Rosso-WestPlaza.
At any given moment he can eat an entire bag of popcorn. The light airy texture paired with a soft crunch is perfect. Reminding him of childhood, now he shares this treat with his girls but adds ranch powder packets for seasoning.
From soft and chewy to light and crunchy we have our food flaws, but our cravings all take us home, where our careers started. When you have a chef over for dinner, never be worried. Everything tastes exponentially better when we don’t have to cook.
Renee Kelly is the owner of Renee Kelly’s Harvest in Johnson County. Her passion lies in changing the food system, one plate at a time. Her inspiration is Mother nature and the many growers in the Kansas City area.