Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita chef shuffle: Local chefs are leaving and starting new jobs

Chef Larry Walker has left the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport after 16 years and starts Monday as the executive chef at Wichita State University.
Chef Larry Walker has left the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport after 16 years and starts Monday as the executive chef at Wichita State University.

Chefs are a nomadic people. As a general rule, they don’t stay in one place for long.

When this phenomenon shows itself in Wichita, I call it “the chef shuffle.”

Several Wichita chefs have been shuffling lately. See if you can follow along.

▪ Chef Larry Walker worked as the executive chef at the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport for 16 years, but now he has a new job. His longtime boss, Michael Phipps, recently retired as general manager from the hotel, and Walker decided it was time for a change for him, too. On Monday, he started work as Wichita State University’s new executive chef.

Walker will oversee all the catering at Wichita State and wants to fill the new meeting spaces and banquet rooms at the Rhatigan Student Center with events. He also has plans to offer wine and beer dinners at WSU.

When he toured the campus and saw everything going on, especially at the new Innovation Campus, he decided it would be a good fit. Walker, a renowned ice sculptor, said he foresees many WuShock sculptures in his future.

“I got really excited about going to Wichita State,” he said. “They’re doing so much over there.”

▪ Chef John Conklin was out of a job after Italian restaurant Rocco’s in Wellington closed in January. But now, he’s found a new job working with the same cuisine. Conklin, who also has worked as a chef at places like YaYa’s Eurobistro and the former Gaslamp Grille, just started working at DeFazio’s, 2706 N. Amidon.

Owner Pete DeFazio has tasked Conklin with taking the lead in the kitchen and introducing some new, more modern dishes. All the DeFazio’s staples will stay, Conklin said, but he eventually hopes to add a more haute take on rustic cuisine with dishes like applewood smoked chicken cacciatore. He also hopes to introduce wine dinners at DeFazio’s.

▪ Chef Paul Guerrero left his spot as chef at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, 10096 E. 13th St., in February for a job at YaYa’s Eurobistro, 8115 E. 21st St. He now works there as general manager and also is the fill-in chef until the restaurant hires a new one. Guerrero is signed up to compete in June in the annual Celebrity & Chef Cookoff fundraiser for the Orpheum.

▪ Chef Damian Lehman, well-known for his years as executive chef at the Wichita Country Club, had been working at Lakeside Club but left about two months ago. He’s been replaced by Nick Loudon, a Wichita native and Kapaun graduate who attended culinary school in Portland and decided he wanted to come home to cook in Wichita. He plans to “blow up” the Lakeside Club menu and will introduce a new one next week, he said.

▪ Chef Roger Meier has just left the Wichita Country Club. Though no one from the club returned messages and phone calls about its executive chef opening, the job is being advertised online. According to the listing, the chef who takes the job will oversee a staff of 20 and manage the club’s four a la carte restaurants plus its caterings.