Wichita chef spiking

Jason-Paul Febres lands role on reality TV show, wows local diners at Taste & See

WRITTEN BY JOE STUMPE

Febres with sous chef Ernadeene Kahihikolo

Febres with sous chef Ernadeene Kahihikolo

Of course Jason-Paul Febres’ restaurant, Taste & See, features an open kitchen. Did you expect him to be stuck cooking in back, where no one can see him? Febres — the photogenic, charming and slightly cocky chef who burst onto Wichita’s dining scene seven years ago — has always imagined himself as a TV chef. And now he is.

Earlier this year, he flew to California to film an episode of Spike TV’s “Bar Rescue,” a reality show in which a panel of experts tries to help a struggling bar. Febres was the food guru. His reaction to appearing on national TV: It’s about time.

“It was more like ‘Finally, I got here!’ than ‘Wow, they picked me,’” said Febres, who grew up in Venezuela.

Don’t get turned off by Febres’ confidence, which is just part of his personality. He’s also funny, self-deprecating, a loving son and conscientious mentor whose habit of saying whatever pops into his head seems to make him a natural for more TV roles (and a reporter’s dream interview).

And oh yeah, he’s a heckuva cook. It’s no surprise that Febres has been a regular winner of local Iron Chef competitions. Or that his restaurant and catering business has managed to take hold in an unconventional setting — the old Wichita Mall on Harry, now an office and conference space.

Here are just a few favorites from the Taste & See menu: Tequenos, which are small bricks of panela cheese baked inside puff pastry; the black bean hummus served with plantain chips; the fish tacos; the cubano sandwich, with slow roasted adobo pork, smoked ham, Emmental cheese and more; and the Pepito, a vast assemblage of steak, sauteed mushrooms, onions, peppers, cheese and shoestring potato fries serve on a hoagie that can’t possibly close around it.

“It’s a fun sandwich to see how customers approach it,” Febres says with a grin, as several nearby customers decide a knife and fork is the best option.

The chef with his mother, Maria Eugenia Vrosa

The chef with his mother, Maria Eugenia Vrosa

Somehow the conversation turns to women, a topic (like most) on which Febres has no shortage of opinions.

“Working with women is better,” he says. “They don’t get drunk on Friday night. They don’t get thrown in jail.”

His sous chef, the Hawaiian-born Ernadeene Kahihikolo, says the admiration is mutual.

“He’s awesome,” she says of Febres. “He’s been a great mentor.”

Febres says his mother, Maria Eugenia Vrosa, lent him the money he needed to come to the United States. This Mother’s Day will be special because Maria is visiting Wichita, even helping out a bit at the restaurant (when not training for her next marathon).

Maria says her son originally leaned toward a career in art, her own field. “Then he started developing his own art, in cooking.”

As for his attraction to women, and vice versa, she says, “Always. I don’t know what it is, but that’s what he likes.”

Chupe

Ingredients• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1/4 cup chopped onion
• 1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
• 1 clove garlic
• 4 cups chicken stock
• 4 cups heavy cream
• 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
• 1 cup cooked, diced chicken breast
• 1 cup coconut milk
• Sliced avocado & chopped cilantro, for garnish

Directions

Melt butter in pan. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Saute until soft. Add chicken stock, cream, corn and chicken breast. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes, adding coconut milk near end of cooking time. Serve garnished with avocado and cilantro.

Note: For a lighter version, substitute half-and-half or evaporated milk for all or part of the heavy cream.

 
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