815 W 17th Street
Kansas City, MO 64108
Located in Kansas City's Historic Westside, less than 1 mile west of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
For the last twenty years or so New American Cuisine has been a catch all phrase to describe restaurants that don’t fit into any discernable ethnic or dietary category. This term is deceptive because there is no Old American or Pre American genre in the culinary community. When I think of New American I think of California in the 80’s and baby lettuce. The term in its original connotation was used the same way Nouvelle Cuisine was used in France, several times throughout history, to signal a changing of the guard and a break from historic techniques and fundamentals. It was a shift in the culinary paradigm and signaled the end of heavy flour and egg based sauces and spices that overshadowed the natural flavor of the product. New American sought to showcase the natural flavors of the products as they were meant to taste, without being buried or lost in more complicated flavors or heavily seasoned to cover inferior product.
The term is outdated. Today’s chefs don’t necessarily mask the flavors of the intended products but they do manipulate them and make them greater than the sum of their parts in some instances. We have learned to use sour, bitter, sweet, salty, oily and fermented ingredients to enhance the natural taste of things rather than disguise them. This is why I propose the term “Novel American Cuisine”.
I was working as a sous-chef in a popular French-Vietnamese restaurant in New York City in 2010. About a year after we opened the Executive Chef stepped down and we were forced to reevaluate the concept and the direction that we wanted to take the restaurant. Between myself and the other chefs we pulled all of our influences and previous experience to the table with one goal. To make delicious food. The menu played on all our culinary and cultural backgrounds as well as techniques that we had learned over the years in all our respective positions. The menu ran the gambit from Southeast Asian, Caribbean, South American, Middle Eastern to Western European and much more. It was also critical that we were sourcing our products responsibly, utilizing local farms, butchers and fisheries and paying close attention to what was at the height of seasonality. The new menu and concept came together organically and then we were faced with a dilemma. What category does our restaurant fall into now? How do we brand this style of cuisine with so many influences and factors?
The solution at the time was to call ourselves New American. It was easy. Everyone knew what it meant and countless other comparable restaurants were happy with this label. It became kind of a generic term for restaurants located in the United States that didn’t have any specific regional or established orientation. All the same, I was never really comfortable with labeling ourselves as such, it seemed untruthful and unoriginal. We were doing something that no one had done before. Not that numerous other chefs weren’t doing similar, comparable and sometimes better versions than we were. They were all unique and innovative. All over the country people were pushing themselves in new directions and experimenting with new techniques and flavors. When I say we were doing something original and new I don’t mean we were revolutionizing the industry, or doing something unprecedented, I simply mean that the dishes we conceived and cooked were our own. They borrowed all sorts of influence and we owe credit to all the teachers and cooks and chefs that came before us, but they were our novel ideas. When I say we are cooking Novel American Cuisine I am not purporting to be a pioneer or doing something that hasn’t been done before, I am simply giving it a more appropriate name and retroactively defining a style of cooking that has been mislabeled for years.
- Ryan Brazeal