Kearney Culinary Academy 6

New culinary center wants more cooks in the kitche

Kansas City’s food scene has gone well beyond just burnt ends for years, and we’re finally getting some well-deserved recognition. So there’s no reason the Northland shouldn’t be a part of that growing tradition. Opening this past summer, the Kearney Culinary Academy is whetting the appetite of area residents, who are excited to improve their own skills while enjoying some of the best flavors of the region.

Located on Jefferson Street in downtown Kearney, KCA opened in the previous La Fuente Mexican Restaurant space after it moved out. The center offers something for everyone: classes for children and adults teaching everything from cake decorating to making homemade pasta; “demo dinners” where guests can watch an area chef prepare a full dinner before digging in; even a newly opened pastry shop.

For Carey Weir, a chef who had just hit pause on her own catering company, the opportunity seemed to materialize quickly.

“It’s just been kind of a whirlwind,” says Weir.

Now the president of the culinary academy, Weir was involved with a local bistro when she met Mike Wrenn and Becky Cole, the financial backers of KCA. The two encouraged Weir to open the center in the vacant building last December, and after a soft opening in June and July, the schedule is already full through the end of the year.

The new endeavor has already attracted the occasional participation from some big-name area chefs, including Debbie Gold, executive chef for The American Restaurant, and Michael Foust, chef and owner of The Farmhouse—part of the same talent helping Kansas City make its mark as a culinary destination.

In just a few short months, the new facility has become a popular destination for intimate wine dinners, fun classes, family activities, even a fun girl’s night.

“It’s supposed to be kind of a fun, social environment,” Weir says. “There’s something for anybody here.”

Melissa Porth lives in Lawson but works across the street from KCA. She attended one of the early demo dinners that offered a chef-prepared, four-course meal with wine pairings. She says she’s been impressed with the variety of classes and is excited about a new option for area residents.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for anyone in Kansas City, but especially the Northland,” Porth says. “I think anyone would enjoy it.”

As a Kearney High School graduate, Weir eventually found her way to medical school at UMKC but quickly learned she was on the wrong career path.

“When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, my dad was like, ‘Whatever you do, just make sure it’s something you enjoy,’” she says. “I tried to think about what made me happy, and it was being around friends and family and my kitchen.”

That led to culinary school and then a certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Eventually, she ended up back where she got her start.

“Kind of like a bad penny, I found my way back here,” she jokes. “People think it’s really cool. There’s not really anything like this up in the Northland.”

Her commitment to the region seemingly has no bounds. She has already initiated a partnership with Kearney High School that allows students to run a mock restaurant at the culinary academy on Wednesday nights. They create a menu and execute it to offer a traditional dinner experience to the public—just $40 for a four-course meal.

Future goals also include offering more advanced classes for both youth and adults, possibly opening a barbecue academy (this is Kansas City after all), and continuing to expand its partnership with Shatto Milk Company. The dairy offers fresh-food options from KCA through its home-delivery service.

In the meantime, KCA will continue to offer a variety of upcoming classes, including “Mexican and Margaritas,” one of its most popular, as well as a three-week series creating updated and fun varieties on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It’s all in an effort to find ways to expose more people to the culinary delights offered in this region.

“The community’s been fantastic,” she says. “Anything we can do to get more involved, of course, we’d love to participate.”

For a full list of classes or to learn more, visit KearneyCulinary.com.