Tag Archives: Julian

Chef Celina Tio Represents Kansas City on ‘The Next Iron Chef’

The tough and talented owner of Julian competes against some of the best chefs in America on the Food Network program starting this Sunday

Some months ago at 6:30 on a Friday evening, Chef Celina Tio of Brookside eatery Julian, received a very important phone call. As this was nearly the height of the dinner rush, she was slightly taken aback. “They were obviously working in a different time zone,” she said, referring to the California-based casting company on the other end of the line. Much to her surprise they asked Tio if she would be interested in auditioning for the next season of the popular Food Network program, The Next Iron Chef. ”It kind of came out of the blue,” said Tio, “I was wondering if it was a joke.”

Celina Tio

Chef Celina Tio

She accepted the offer and wound up interviewing with two people over the telephone before she was invited to Los Angeles to perform on-camera. This interview involved a series of questions, partially to ascertain how Tio came across onscreen but also to evaluate her personality. “They asked me if I had a tattoo,” she said, “I’m not really sure what that had to do with anything. I guess that’s the new hot thing I guess if you’re chef you have to have a tattoo.”

Soon after the interview she was informed that they liked her and wanted her for the show. “That kind of worried me because I wondered what personality they cast me as…am I the bitch? I don’t know.” Recently the Food Network magazine came out with a spread of the contestants, listing Tio’s “competitive edge” as her “likability,” which probably means she comes across pretty positively on the show.

They did all the filming in one stretch but she won’t say how long it took so no one can draw any conclusions about her success on the show. The better you perform, the longer you stay after all.

Taping took place primarily in the West which meant that Tio was far away from her family for a time. “That’s certainly part of the mental game, for sure,” she said. “If you are pining for home I think you are not going to do as well.” For that reason she elected not to call home on battle days to keep herself sharp and determined. “Not that I didn’t miss my family but you just have to focus. It’s a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things and potentially what it could lead to is far going to outweigh that small amount of time.”

In the vein of other reality competition programs, The Next Iron Chef asks its contestants to perform under extreme pressure. The nature of the challenges, the ingredients available and the time of execution are typically a mystery. Fans of the show know that the ability to think on one’s feet is just as important as technique or training. “Being an iron chef is being adaptable, being innovative, having all these different qualities so cooking is just kind of a background.” Because of the wacky challenges and high-pressure atmosphere, being on the show allowed her to try out some new techniques. “You need to be able to take risks,” said Tio.

Celina Tio attended college at Drexel University in Philadelphia where she majored in Hotel and restaurant management. “I always wanted to be a chef but at the time it wasn’t really acceptable to go to culinary school right after graduating high school, at least not widely popular.” After school she went to the Ritz Carlton where she worked her way up from breakfast cook to chef of one of the dining rooms in less than two years.

Before coming to Kansas City, chef Tio worked at Walt Disney World for five years, opening three of their eleven specialty restaurants which were among the country’s best-regarded including one aboard a transatlantic cruise ship. This took her to Italy for a two month stretch. “It sounds far more romantic than it actually was,” she said, “I was living in a ferry boat in a shipyard.”

She was was not looking to relocate from Disney but still tried to keep abreast of culinary scenes around the country. An Internet job posting for the American Restaurant led her to Kansas City where she served as executive chef. While there she won Best-Chef Midwest from the James Beard Foundation in 2007. “That family was great to work with and it was the venue that I thought it would be.” Missing the friendly personal interaction with guests that is nearly her trademark these days, Tio left The American to open Julian in 2009.

More than her experience however, Tio feels that her personality is what gave her an edge on the show. For example, she wanted to familiarize herself with television production enough to make her comfortable on the show. “Out of probably sixty people on the production crew, I probably knew forty of their names and said hello to them every day. My first battle I introduced myself to the camera guy and then it was really easy for me to deal with the cameras which hinder some people I think.” Tio even felt comfortable giving camera and sound operators mild instructions so that they didn’t interfere with her performance.

Still, the atmosphere during taping was high-pressure and tense. “I’ll be curious to see if the camera shows me as anxiety-ridden as I was,” she said. As for the notoriously harsh judging, it did not bother her to be evaluated. “I didn’t take anything personally because it’s their job to do that, she said, adding “the level of cooking was so high, it really does come down to ‘this was not salted or this was too spicy sweet or whatever.’”

Tio had met nearly half of the other contestants including Ming Tsai, generally considered the favorite (if there is such a thing in reality television). While competing with other luminaries in the business she did pick up a few ideas and techniques, but mostly stayed focused on her own performance. “Most of the things you learn,” she said, “you learn about yourself in that environment.”

Beginning with the premiere this Sunday at 8 p.m., Julian is hosting a series of watch parties for all eight weeks of this season of The Next Iron Chef. For each episode in which Tio appears, guests can order a meal comprised of the dishes she created on the show for $35. The word has spread and most of the spots are accounted for, but interested folks should still call the restaurant.

Julian is located at 6227 Brookside Plaza, Kansas City, Mo

originally published on KCFreePress.com, 2010

Top 9 most promising new restaurants of 2009: Kansas City

1. R Bar: 1617 Genessee St
R Bar has largely lived up to its tremendous hype in a couple of short months. The dimly lit tavern and restaurant set up shop in a rehabbed space across from the Golden Ox formerly occupied by Sutera’s. Not only does R Bar employ a couple of the finest bartenders in Kansas City, but the food is a particular delight for enthusiastic eaters and culinarians alike. Alex Pope’s menu features highly decadent offerings such as beef tartar, fois gras, short ribs and pork belly at sane prices. The entire package is the single most exciting development in the Kansas City restaurant landscape.

2. The Westside Local: 1663 Summit Street
The concept is so solid, it was almost a foregone conclusion that The Westside Local would thrive. It brings an imaginative but casual approach to eating and drinking to bear at the lovely intersection of 17th and Summit, already home to Blue Bird Bistro, Lill’s, Los Alamos Market, Fervere bakery and most recently, Chez Elle. The menu offers dishes at many levels of granularity, from small bowls of buttery green olives and homemade pickles to sandwiches and full plates of braised rabbit or steak. A slick atmosphere, comfy beer garden and an expert bar staff have made The Westside Local a bustling and fun environs for late night diners, drinkers and socializers.

3. C Withers Restaurant & Cafe: 3613 Broadway St
Equal parts soul food and barbecue joint, C Withers provides a much needed jolt of culinary honesty and integrity to a midtown strip rife with possibilities. Withers serves up delicious chicken wings, beef, ribs, cornbread and other soul food staples with a healthy dose of family-run friendliness. Time will tell if the place will succeed, but it has already endeared itself to nearly everyone who has tried it.

4. Julian: 6227 Brookside Plz
The former Joe D’s Wine Bar space has recently been reoccupied by Julian, a tasteful and intimate fine dining establishment. While many have noted problems with its small size, room noise and overattentive service, Chef Celina Tio’s new Brookside venture features food that is too good to ignore. Julian has a fervent fan base and has quickly established itself as one of the top eateries in Brookside.

5. Hot Basil: 7528 W 119th St
We could certainly use more options for Thai food in this town. Fortunately 2009 brought us Hot Basil, a promising little restaurant in a nondescript Overland Park shopping center near 119th and Metcalf. While small, the whole interior is elegantly decorated and even the dishes and glassware have novel, classy design. The cuisine at Hot Basil is frankly a notch above the ubiquitous Thai Place, and it is every bit as spicy as advertised.

6. The Farmhouse: 300 Delaware St
Advertising a “farm to table” approach to food service, Farmhouse offers seasonal dishes made with fresh, locally procured ingredients and an emphasis on sustainable and organic practices. This aesthetic has clearly resonated with the dining public who have lauded the place on review Web sites to an almost laughable degree. Nonetheless, the concept remains exciting and the River Market location (formerly Delaware Cafe) is a big plus.

7. The Well: 7421 Broadway St
The menu at this somewhat upscale if generic sports bar won’t win any creativity awards, but the food is prepared with a lot of care. High quality versions of traditional bar food abound, such as their 8 oz black Angus burger or the French Dip made with slices of tender prime rib. The Well has dozens of beers on tap and a jazillion flat screen TVs if that’s your thing. What really distinguishes this place from the competition is all of the outdoor space, particularly the fabulous, oft-mentioned rooftop deck.

8. Cozy’s Cafe: 6740 W 75th St
This impeccably clean new Overland Park restaurant fills a desperately-needed breakfast niche in the area, but also offers some nice, European inspired entrees and sandwiches for every meal of the day. Cozy’s is no-frills but expertly run and the service is friendly to a fault.

9. The Sweet Guy: 7439 Broadway
While fairly well-known for its delicious chocolates, Waldo’s The Sweet Guy actually serves up fine lunches of sandwiches, salads and pastas. I like the idea of creating your own salad from their list of excellent toppings and capping it with chicken, salmon, turkey or tofu. A full service espresso bar along with gelato and outstanding candies make this a really cool addition to Waldo’s thriving scene.

Honorable mention: One More Cup: 7408 Wornall; Greedy Man’s BBQ & Grill: 5536 Troost; Burrito Bros., City Market