Pumpkin gets all the glory, but when a chef needs to dig for
warm, comforting flavors they turn to a different fruit: butternut
The versatility of the sweet, bowling pin-shaped fruit
is on full display at Pig & Finch thanks to a trio of dishes from
executive chef Raquel Kramer. The squash adds a slightly nutty component
as a side accompanying an espresso-rubbed pork shoulder, takes center
stage in a warm butternut squash salad and balances out a rich brown
butter gnocchi dish.
“It’s sweet and comforting,” Kramer says. “Butternut squash is great with everything.”
a recent Friday, she sits down in the dining room of the Park Place
restaurant and starts talking about the gnocchi – one of the most
labor-intensive dishes on Pig & Finch’s menu. The hand-rolled pasta,
a recipe that is three steps removed from a grandma in France, takes
two-and-a-half hours to make.
“Our gnocchi is a little different than most people do it. It’s softer and more pillow-like,” Kramer says.
recipe isn’t written down; instead Kramer prepares it by feel just like
former Pig & Finch executive chef John Smith. To make the dough,
she combines russet potatoes, egg yolks, flour, salt and pepper. The
remaining ingredients in the dish change with the season. Currently,
Kramer is featuring butternut squash, candied bacon, goat cheese and
brown butter cream.
“It’s a take on a dish that my family does
every holiday. It’s a casserole from my grandma. I’m taking the same
flavor profile, but reinterpreting it.” Kramer says. “It’s food that
hits you on every note, salty, sweet and savory.”
Kramer looks to her family for inspiration and they, in turn, have always known that she would be in the kitchen.
mom built all the houses that we lived in and she said she made the
kitchens extra big with an island in the center because I always wanted
to sit on the counter,” Kramer says of growing up in Springfield,
She made the decision to move to Kansas City to attend
Johnson County Community College’s culinary program three years ago.
She competed on the school’s culinary team, which won the national
championship, and began as an apprentice for chef Smith at The Jacobson.
When Smith moved to Pig & Finch, he asked Kramer to come
with him and she rose to the position of sous chef in 2014. This July,
she was named the executive chef at Pig & Finch – the youngest and
only female executive chef at the 11 eateries owned and operated by the
801 Restaurant Group.
“What I enjoy most is pleasing people and
seeing the experiences they get through food,” Kramer says. “The style
of food we serve here is very comforting.”
One of the most
comforting (and popular) plates at Pig & Fig is the espresso-rubbed
pork shoulder. The pork shoulder is brined for 12 hours in a combination
of Louisburg apple cider, rosemary and brown sugar.
“We take steps to infuse all that awesome flavor into pork,” Kramer says.
Kramer then applies a dry espresso rub and roasts the pork for an additional 12 hours.
turns mahogany reddish brown and you get this nice, almost caramelized
glaze from the brown sugar,” Kramer says. “It’s one of those dishes in
the window that people see and say, ‘what’s that?’”
shoulder is plated with butternut squash (roasted with fresh sage,
fennel, salt and pepper) and sautéed kale with an apple cider maple
glaze. Butternut squash moves from back-up dancer to star attraction
with the warm butternut squash kale salad.
kale is served raw for crunch and as a contrast to the red-wine poached
cranberries in the salad that is served with a creamy apple cider
vinaigrette and shaved parmesan cheese.
“You’ve got this creamy
cool dressing with a hint of sweetness,” Kramer says. “Then you’ve got
the crunch of the walnuts and warm roasted squash that just melds
Kramer is thinking a lot about how
everything works together these days. After recently participating in
Socks & Hops, a fundraiser for Swope Health Services that paired
local breweries and chefs, she’s been motivated to bring back monthly
beer dinners to Pig & Finch in 2016. Five months into her new role,
she’s also excited about the opportunities for ambitious chefs in her
“It’s all what you put into it,” Kramer says. “I have
students from JCCC right now and I tell them that nobody is going to
push you to where you want to be. You have to want it. We feed people
here and you have to be willing to put in the long hours to do that.”