Eating French in Kansas City can be a challenging but one of the best is the iconic le Fou Frog , located just east of the River Market on 5th St. The culinary brain child of Mano Rafael who operates this award winning establishment with his charming wife Barbara their devoted and dedicated kitchen and service staff. With a reputation for extraordinary service as well as it's oftentimes quirky and artsy events, the menu [mixed with both French bistro style plates and haute cuisine] is the real draw for scores of regular patrons. Mano presides over the kitchen but in recent years he has been mentoring a young chef, originally from Albania, who has earned the position of Chef de Cuisine, Fatmir Paplekaj .
Chef Fatmir emigrated to the US just over 6 years ago and when he landed in Kansas City found work at another local venue. He spoke little English but his Italian was serviceable as he had worked previously in restaurants in Italy before moving to America. We asked him what motivated his interest in the food industry and he said that he learned to appreciate the importance of well prepared and beautifully presented meals in childhood from his father, the principal cook in their home. "He took time, not only to select ingredients, and to carefully prepare each dish; but to also prepare a visual feast for the eyes." It's that attention to detail that has stuck with and inspired this young chef ever since. He loves coming to work each day to embrace the challenge of always learning new methods and techniques to prepare and present visually appetizing and delectable dishes.
When he literally stumbled upon le Fou Frog while exploring the River Market area, he discovered the atmosphere and hospitality of the small European dining experiences that resonated with his youthful travels around the continent. He applied for a position in the kitchen without anticipating it would lead to being mentored and apprenticed to one KC's most creative and demanding culinary artists. Yet that is what happened and Chef Fatmir has embraced the opportunity with energy and dedication, learning classical techniques that instill consistency and parameters for creative experimentation with ingredients and flavor profiles. French cooking is nothing without the stocks and the sauces and like all of le Fou Frog's offerings, these are prepared fresh daily in house. That freshness , along with local, seasonal, menu adjustments is a source of pride to this young chef, and he says, "one of the most important reasons that we can offer such satisfaction to our guests."
On days off Fatmir is still exploring Kansas City and he and his wife enjoy checking out the great variety of cuisines that Kansas City is famous for. Although he says that since they are raising two small boys they don't do quite as much fine dining as before. He just enjoys the family time and he thinks KC is a great place for families. And he clearly has embraced the family of the restaurant. We hear that he often stops by on his days off to check on projects he did not finish the day before - now, that's dedication and passion.
In a restaurant that has "big personalities" in abundance this young chef is a little on the shy side, until he starts talking about the food and then his passion and enthusiasm is boundless. As we concluded our chat, we talked about the transition into the Fall & Winter seasons when menu options shift into richer, heavier fare. Some of his favorites included the Cassoulet, Bouilliabaisse and some wild game options [one of his guilty food pleasures]. We asked what he thinks people might need to know about the Frog and he quickly replied: "It's the atmosphere - everyone who comes is special; and dining here is always special, even without an occasion." It's hard to resist that kind of focus on the mission of any really good restaurant when you know that is the ingrained in the heart of it's top chefs. &n