We moved here 9 years ago, bereft at leaving our fair city. Within months we were welcomed into the foodie community. It kind of went beyond embracing and took on a borg-like quality. 40 Sardines was our home-away-from-home, due in no small part not only to Debbie Gold and Michael Smith’s cooking and hospitality, but also the good natured, hard working guy in the kitchen who towered over everyone else. One time, when I had to get the baby out of the house due to the exterminator being there, I swung by 40 for lunch. Everything went swimmingly until Jamie kicked on the cappuccino maker near us, and the sound freaked out Sean. Every server took a turn at trying to calm him, but it wasn’t until ‘Big Country’ John himself swaggered out from the kitchen, swooped up Sean, and started getting downright silly with him that the wailing stopped.
We were sad when he left 40, but thrilled he took over at Starker’s Reserve- a venerable grand dame on the dining scene here. And we were even more thrilled when he bought out the place. Barely 30, the chef-owner of a great place. Active in charity, always a spine-cracking hug, always asking how things were and meaning it sincerely. Now at 35, opening a second place, well ensconced in the young leadership of the KC culinary scene. We did dorky dances in the rain at Brookside and compared tomato growing tricks. He cajoled Sean into eating raw veggies other than sugar snaps straight from my market basket. We commiserated over the cost of sheep’s milk yogurt. John didn’t bat an eye when we started bringing Sean in for lunches to teach him white-tablecloth restaurant manners, instead loudly greeting us and making it clear to the disapproving lunchtime businessmen that oh no, he wanted us there. He got misty-eyed when he found out Sean’s name for him was ‘Little John’, because that, it turns out, was a pet family name for him. When we had the opportunity to swipe tickets to Green Dirt Farms dinners this summer, there was no question: we were going to John’s, period. My last conversation with him, we talked about carnitas and cocktails, about kids’ books and table manners, about new year’s and biscuit bars and infusions and melt-your-eyeballs vodka and the plaza art fair and how mmmmm girl, fuck the traffic, live a little and c’mon down, I’ll take care of you.
I don’t think I ever outright said how vital he was to KC becoming our home, and now I never can. I cannot bring myself to say ‘be at peace’ to you, John, because peace is not how I picture you. You laughed too big and lived too loud for that. You are likely dumping out vats of red crawfish on newspaper strewn tables in heaven. You are drinking like a mofo and singing along to your favorite band. I picture you happy, surrounded by an eternal harvest of heirlooms and rarities.
I miss you so hard, and it’s only been a few hours.