Recently I had the great pleasure of continuing my work on the Foodie Project by photographic behind the scenes at one of the Mid-West's greatest culinary institutions - Gates Barbeque. When we recently moved to Kansas City, we quickly learned of the huge cultural importance of barbeque in this city, and deep personal convictions on Barbeque that seemingly everyone holds. In Kansas City, barbeque is more philosophy, perhaps even religion, than merely something to eat. Kansas City Barbeque, its unique flavors, methods and culture was new to me, coming from a culinary tradition where Barbeque was synonymous with grilling, and (so I would learn) worlds away from true barbeque.
Long before I began shooting images at Gates, I was keenly aware of what I would soon discover was a family and business philosophy - true, sincere kindness and graciousness. Gates family member, Charles Oakley has treated me like a best friend from the day I met him while he was a student in one of my classes. This graciousness was present at every moment of my time shooting at the restaurant. The "Hi, May I Help You?" that every customer receives upon entering the restaurant, was extended to me as a visitor, curious foodie, artist and human being. Before I could even unload my camera, I was given tour filled with history, stories, philosophy and rich technical information.
I have photographed (and for that matter, worked) in many restaurants and seen the full range of behind the scenes behaviors and activities, but I had yet to experience the Gates work style. Quiet, focused, well dressed, polite, cheerful and CLEAN! While this could apply to several restaurants - I have never experienced these qualities expressed at this high level. It may seem odd that I am writing at length about the experience of this photo shoot rather than the food served there, but like most restaurant experiences, the atmosphere, character, staff and service deeply influence our perceptions of the food - so it was with Gates, and I found myself a passionate devotee to their unique barbeque.
Needless to say, the food was incredible. The mixed plate that I had was huge, filled with wonderful beef, ham, amazing ribs and truly crisp fries. Far too much for one person, but the left-overs make a beautiful late night snack. Their signature "spicy" sauce had just the right heat to make it completely addictive. And, the peach tea - Perfect! There is a true sense of family at Gates. This is particularly strong within the actual Gates family, but I could literally sense it within the management and staff. Since 1946 Gates has been serving up this great food and positive community vibe, and I am truly glad that I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with this organization and their mixed plate.