Friday, January 28, 2011

Beth Barden’s re-invention: Succotash

Artists are teaching me about re-invention of the self and the world around us. Beth Barden will not call herself an artist. But I will. She doesn’t call herself a chef. She says she’s a cook. I write the word chef in defiance. Beth knows defiance well, for she’s defied the odds and salvaged her life, salvaged materials, re-invented them into art, taken her path to a place and created with joyful vision a place at 24th and Holmes in Kansas City, a phoenix-like jewel called Succotash; a café, a brucheonette, a catering service, made it her own and shared it with us.

The ambiance is artful, the staff is more family than staff in an extended sense. The food fanciful, colorful, tasty, and fun. This is not a review but rather a homecoming piece, for all of these nice people, Beth Barden, and her creations constitute a home. Homes have food and that’s here, but there’s so much more.

Beth’s re-invention began in YJ’s in 1998 when she started to cook there. She opened her first Succotash location in the River Market in 2001. Remember it? When it closed, you could hear people whine for months. But after 9 ½ years, she moved up the hill, in November last year, to her new place in the shadow of the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center. I know the place well, for I taught school there from 95-97…the bright spirit of Succotash defies the shadow now.

Creative defiance…

Photographer, Rachael Jane and I spent a morning at Succotash with Beth and her extended family this week, a morning and through lunch, talking, listening and watching.

We met Stuart Scott Smith, Beth’s delivery guy, armed with his 1995 F150, a strong back, a smiling face. Stuart's a fourth year student at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI), a painter. Brock Hildebrandt is a painter as well as a great “sous chef “, I mean kitchen assistant cook, "Joe Friday". Rachel Crain, a Mommy not an artist, tends the restaurant space and runs the long cool lunch counter. Kat White, an artist but not presently but remembered she once was and still is I guess, tag-teamed with Rachel and bothered Beth as often as possible. All families have elements of dysfunctionality which makes this world go round in a wobbly way sometimes. Bobby Crossley cooked in the kitchen, a cook with ten years experience, a focused yet fun guy who shared his corporate cooking saga. Now he’s in the thick of a re-invention of his own, the real deal, one great dish atta time, a culmination of his experience. I missed seeing Venus Van Horn on this a Thursday, her day off. I’ll be back.

So these, the people, combine with the we the people, the eaters, the traveling lost hungry souls, the foundlings, the curious to round out the Succotash world, Beth’s world for us to enjoy. And with this feeling of family coursing through my brain, in the background played Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Sweet like the blueberry pie on the lunch counter that beckoned my pie-hole. Home.

Too many more words here and this will get boring. I’ll defer to Rachael Jane’s images, and encourage the reader to escape to this place soon, relax, eat, relax, meet the family and eat some more. Stay for dessert.

I’m going back to Beth’s world soon to cook with her. Perhaps in my next piece she’ll let me share a recipe or two with you. There’s a cookbook in my head about Beth, her Succotash, her family, her patrons (I mean friends), her salvaged beauty, her re-invented life, her artistry, I mean cooking.

Keeping it all in the family, last night I saw Beth's significantly talented other, Marco Pascolini, play his guitar magic at the The Living Room, with Marco's V7...Beth wasn't there...she chef'd, I mean cooked, all day...

Here's a slideshow by Rachael Jane...

Photo of Beth Barden by Rachael Jane

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