Happy Holidays to all the hospitality workers

One of Lon Lane's creations

One of Lon Lane's creations

To me, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without schlepping heavy Cambros full of food into someone’s home or hauling cases of sparkling wine to an office building.Years of catering have imprinted this on my brain, which now confuses extreme muscle fatigue with seasonal happiness.

My catering career started behind stage at giant rock and roll concerts. It evolved to staging events for art and gallery openings, then morphed into a more permanent venue when I started Café Lulu, and then became itinerant again when I became a private chef. Obviously, catering is one of the ultimate behind the scenes professions.

I have always loved being behind the scenes. The Regular Joes were out front listening to the music. I was in the dressing room of Aerosmith loading up their bar with tequila and chatting with the band.

So I went searching for a place to get my holiday fix of chaos, and Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions let me into their world.

Inspired Occasions must the busiest caterer in town. In the week I joined them, they had back-to-back parties for 500 plus six or seven other jobs each of those days. Then there was a sit down dinner for 100-plus at Union Station the next day plus several other events. You get the idea.

The staff at Inspired Occasions prepares itself for this season. They know it will try their fortitude and skills. But they seem totally ready for it. After 14 or 15 hours of work, when I’m wondering how my legs turned into throbbing tree stumps, the kitchen and staging rooms are still buzzing with activity.

And Lon Lane doesn’t ask them to do anything he won’t do himself. He is there when you arrive at 5 a.m. and he’s still there when you leave at midnight. His wife works by his side, as does his son.

Smoked beef tenderloin, roast espresso chicken, baron of corned beef, three kinds of deviled eggs, 600 shrimp, 400 stone crab claws, thousand of cookies, philo stuffed with goat cheese and figs, scallop ceviche, antipasto cones, fruited chicken salad, mango bread, mini BLT’s, a taco bar, tea sandwiches, dozens of sauces and dips, orange brined turkey, hundreds of lemon curd tarts, marinated vegetables, chocolate dipped strawberries. These are just a few of the items the kitchen sends out in one 24-hour period.

Executive Chef Zelda Johnson and Executive sous chef JR Ritz keep their team moving forward with surprisingly good cheer.

Every kitchen has its unique conversation and music. Sometimes the talk is sports oriented, sometimes all about what you did the night before. This kitchen was filled with discussions of movies and music, a popular culture talk show. Classic rock played on one side, hip-hop where the younger people worked.

It was a well-oiled war machine.

Jeff French, the general manager, and his team of event specialists kept the usual tension between the front of the house and the back of the house to a minimum. There was no yelling. Well, almost no yelling.

After my time at Inspired Occasions, I was left with a lingering sense of the irony of what they do so well.

Dark outside when you go in, dark outside when you go home. This is the life of thousands of hospitality workers across the country at the holiday season. While you are enjoying a holiday party, they are washing dozens of pots and pans, prepping thousands of steaks, wrapping and stacking and counting and baking.

This is the time they make the money for their car payment, their children’s Christmas presents, and that house payment they missed in September.

So, to all the behind the scenes hospitality workers out there, I salute you. And I salute the front of the house as well, the bartenders, hostesses, managers and servers. Have a wonderful holiday when you can enjoy it — in January.

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A quick tour of Kansas City bakeries

This is not a definitive list. Nor is it a “Best Of” list. Nor is it a guide of any type.

This is me sharing with you the bakeries I’ve visited lately and enjoyed. It does not include bakeries that specialize in cupcakes. I’ll devote a whole posting to cupcakes later.

Bakeries are a subjective thing. Some people long for the old fashioned smell of yeasty bread baking. Others want a chic place to meet friends. Some of us only buy items we don’t like to bake ourselves while others of us want to taste items we love to bake ourselves and see what the differences are like.

There is, of course, some amount of guilt involved with enjoying bakery food. The butter, the sugar, the trans-fats. And because of the guilt, there has to be an equal or larger amount of emotional satisfaction.

You have only to read other postings on Chow Town to understand the emotional relationship between humans and their bakery favorites. When Kimberly Winter Sternwrites about pies, when Jasper Mirabile Jr. writes about his beloved cannoli, when Judith Fertig writes about cinnamon rolls, you can tell those delicacies aren’t just filling their empty stomachs.

So you must search for your own cookie or tart or slice of pie, you know, the one that is really worth it. Here are some places to start your quest, in alphabetical order.

Andre’s Confiserie Suisse (5018 Main St., 816-561-6484)

Since 1955 Andre’s has been bringing the European experience to Kansas City. About 1970, I had my first slice of quiche there, and my first piece of Linzor torte. I felt so Continental. I wish I had one of their Napoleons right now.

Boulevard Bakery & Pastries (2815 Independence Blvd., 816-483-7172)

This is decorated cookie headquarters. You can get cookies for all the holidays plus offbeat themes like Doctor and Dental, Outer Space or Circus. All the categories are on their website. Cash or check only.

Dolce Bakery (3930 W. 69th Terrace, Prairie Village, 913-236-4411)

They say their cinnamon roll is their best seller, but my money goes on the chocolate dipped macaroons every time.

Fervere (1702 Summit St., 816-842-7272)

Many years ago, I did my catering out of Charlene’s kitchen at Classic Cup. I tried to work in the evenings so I wouldn’t be in the way. Soon two men were working at night also, starting a bread company. From that start has emerged two wonderful sources for bread: Farm to Market Co. and Fervere. One partner, Mark Friend, wanted to expand the business and he has been successful at that, Farm to Market, providing bread for many of the city’s supermarkets. The other partner, Fred Spompinato, wanted to stay small and make only what he could create by hand himself, thus Fervere. He has been successful at that as well, giving Kansas City two unique slants on that most essential item, bread. Fervere is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That photo of the sold out sign in the window is a warning: Go when they open the doors or call ahead.

Le Monde Bakery (308 Armour Road, North Kansas City, 816- 474-0055)

What nice people. What good croissant. I loved the almond and then I tasted the chocolate and I don’t know which I like better. What a great dilemma to have.

Mclain’s Bakery (201 E. Gregory Blvd., 816-523-9911)

Although the same people don’t own McClain’s that started it in 1945, the same Midwestern bakery vibe continues. Still make cinnamon rolls by the dozens. Still make those famed pecan sandies with the chocolate kiss on top. Cash or check only.

Le Petit Rouge Bakery (328 W. 63rd St., 816-753-0441)

Karen Geary is another friend from the Classic Cup days. She has created the sweetest bakery inside the Reading Reptile in Brookside. The flaky crust on my individual pumpkin tart was sublime. I wonder who enjoys Petit Rouge most, the kids that come to get a book, or the parents that bring them?

The Upper Crust (115 Westport Road, 816-561-4990 and 7943 Santa Fe Dr., Overland Park, 913-642-2999)

Every Friday and Saturday a corner of the crowded ground floor at Pryde’s in Westport is filled with the most marvelous pies and cookies. The meringue stands tall, the fruit glistens, the crust is just right and there are cookies with names like salted caramel pecan bars and burnt sugar frosted banana. Need I say more?

Bounty of fresh summer vegetables makes August good cooking month

In the past few weeks, Chow Town bloggers have offered lots of good recipes that use the bounty of August.

Tyler Fox’s seasonal pizzal ooked amazing, as did Andrea Shores Salad Nicoise. I loved Judith Fertig’s treatment of peaches (on the grill) and Donna Cook’s odes to watermelon and tomatoes.

And I’m sure all of you have an absolute favorite summer food. Write me a comment and let me know what it is.

In the meantime, here, is my contribution to this collection of August recipes.

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Kansas City has many interesting pizza choices

We all know that Italian food is the most popular cuisine of America. So, it stands to follow, pizza surely is the most popular food in the world.

From that first box of Chef-Boy-Ardee, I knew my search for a good pizza was going to be a life long journey.

But why heat up the kitchen when there are so many interesting pizza choices in Kansas City now?

Here are some, certainly not all, of the best pizzas in town. Let me know what your favorite pie is, whether it’s on my list or not. I’m always looking for the best pizza in the world.

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Salt becomes the new chic ingredient

We went along for years not thinking much about our salt, and now it’s not just a chic ingredient, it’s the talk of the town.

Hawaiian, grey, French, flaked and kosher.

Salt is one of the most enduring commodities of exchange in the history of mankind. It is essential to life. Bought, traded and fought over, salt is harvested by mining it out of the earth, by evaporating it out of salt marches and by cooking brine from the sea.

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Road food: Summer edition

As much as I love discovering fabulous places to enjoy food when I’m on the road, it is almost as much fun to share my discoveries with friends.

I made an East Coast swing at the first part of June and went to western Kentucky for the Fourth of July holiday.

Here’s where I ate. If you find yourself in these neighborhoods, go to any and all of the following.

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