Colby Garrelts, a 2007 James Beard Foundation Award nominee for Midwest Chef of the Year and a 2005 Food & Wine’s Top New Chef, began his culinary career at the age of 14 bussing tables in Kansas City. He always knew he needed to achieve goals “his way” and therefore decided to obtain his culinary education in kitchens across the country. While working as a line cook at a steakhouse, he learned cooking fundamentals and realized that this could be a career. After high school, Garrelts began culinary school and cooked at two prestigious private clubs where he learned the techniques necessary to prepare fine cuisine.
Garrelts was working for Kansas City’s prominent American Restaurant, when he got a call about a new restaurant opening in the Westport District. As sous chef at the Stolen Grill, he developed a taste for big city cuisine, small business acumen and the aspiration to see what culinary experiences he could acquire in a larger city. With all of this on his mind, Garrelts moved to Chicago in 1999, where he became rounds man and then senior sous chef at the five-star, five-diamond restaurant TRU, under nationally acclaimed chefs Rick Tramanto and Gale Gand. At TRU, Garrelts honed his technical skills, developed his culinary style and met his future wife/partner Megan Schultz.
Still anxious to get additional experience, Garrelts moved with Schultz to Las Vegas where he assisted Jean Joho in managing his Eiffel Tower property in the Paris Hotel and later joined Schultz at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. But in keeping with his desire to do things “his way,” Garrelts wanted to work in a small restaurant where he could further develop his culinary style. In Los Angeles, he secured the chef de cuisine position with Hans Röckenwagner at his Santa Monica Röckenwagner Restaurant, where he introduced a small tasting menu to rave reviews. But even there, Garrelts wanted his own place where he could take the skills and experiences accumulated from the talented chefs he had worked under and blend them into his own distinctive cuisine.
Colby and Megan, who was now his wife, returned to Kansas City, Mo., in 2003. The couple located a building in the heart of Westport, Kansas City’s entertainment district, and opened bluestem. The restaurant showcases chef Colby Garrelts’ progressive American cuisine and Megan’s new varieties of American desserts. A highlight of dining at bluestem is savoring the seven or 12-course tasting menu and the decadent dessert tasting menus. Still not content to rest on culinary laurels, in 2006 the Garrelts opened bluestem Wine Lounge, next door to their restaurant. The restaurant has received Wine Spectator’s prestigious Award of Excellence and writing about bluestem in Wine Spectator, John Mariani stated that, “The most exciting place to open in Kansas City recently is bluestem, which has been winning well-deserved local and national accolades…” Raymond Sokolov commented on bluestem in a Wall Street Journal article that, “It may well be the most sophisticated place to eat between Chicago and Aspen.”
Insisting on “his way,” chef Colby Garrelts has successfully shown that this can result in an exceptional restaurant and award-winning cuisine!
Just outside Chicago, in Naperville, Ill., Megan Schultz commenced her culinary education at age 15. After she had mastered every cooking class in her high school, she became the assistant to her high school foods teacher and by senior year had developed her own independent study in baking and pastry. During this study, Schultz met her first professional chef, who later offered her a job as a prep cook at Metro Grill in downtown Naperville. There she learned the basics of restaurant operations, while working every station in the kitchen.
It wasn’t long before she was offered a position at Meson Sabika, a Spanish tapas restaurant in Naperville. Here, chef Francois Sanchez was her mentor and taught her the role of pastries in fine dining. She decided to focus her career on baking and pastry and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1998. While at the CIA, she participated in an externship at the Park Avenue Café in New York City under Richard Leach, who was a recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef Award.
After graduating, Schultz moved back home and was hired at TRU in Chicago, where she worked for Gale Gand, another recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef Award. TRU raised Megan’s level of professional standards and helped formulate her personal vision of fine pastries. Chef Gand gave her pastry staff the freedom to develop menu items and this let Schultz create pastries in her own style. While working at TRU, she met her future husband, Colby.
From Chicago, Schultz moved to Las Vegas with Colby, where she was employed as pastry sous chef of Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. She worked alongside pastry chef Megan Romano, developing new menus, managing a large kitchen, and dealing with the challenges of a high volume hotel kitchen. However, she and Colby soon longed to be in a smaller restaurant, where they could refine their style. They moved to Los Angeles where Schultz was hired as the executive pastry chef for the Getty Center Restaurant. In January 2003, the Los Angeles Times food critic favorably reviewed her work. She also consulted for Chef Hans Rockenwagner’s two restaurants in Santa Monica.
After two years in California, the Garrelts decided it was time to return to the Midwest and realize their dream of owning a fine dining restaurant. So in 2003, newlyweds Megan and Colby returned to Kansas City, Mo., to open bluestem in Westport, Kansas City’s entertainment district. The restaurant features chef Colby Garrelts’ Progressive American Cuisine and chef Megan Garrelts’ new varieties of American desserts. Megan Garrelts takes great pride in her dessert tasting menus. In 2006, the Garrelts opened bluestem Wine Lounge next door to their restaurant. With bluestem, the Garrelts offer a flavorful toast to fine dining and a marriage of outstanding culinary skills.