You may recognize Kansas City chef extraordinaire Celina Tio from Bravo's Top Chef Masters.
While she's gone Hollywood, she hasn't forgotten Kansas City. Tio's childhood dream is on display every day in the heart of Brookside.
The Pennsylvania native opened a comfortable and classy restaurant called JULIAN.
"I wanted to open a place that basically stemmed from my want, which is chef-driven food that didn't take and consume your entire evening," she said.
She named the restaurant in part for her childhood idol, Chef Julia Child, and her grandfather Julian Rodriguez. Both influenced her to become a chef.
"I was always hanging out in the kitchen. I distinctly remember my first recipe at home was a quick bread. I made carrot bread and I remember grating my knuckles and stopping after a half a cup when I probably needed two cups...I'm like, it'll taste fine," she recalled.
The 42-year-old is married to her husband, Ken. They have a daughter named Maya.
Tio has wowed audiences on the Food Network's The Next Iron Chef, Iron Chef America, and Bravo's Top Chef Masters. It's a long way from her first cooking job at a Benningan's in a mall.
"I actually had to beg the kitchen manager to give me a chance in the kitchen. He said, 'But you have no experience,' and I replied, 'You get that somebody has to cut me a break or I'll never get the experience.' And he said, 'OK, fair enough,'" she remembered.
Her resume soon blossomed far beyond a family dining restaurant inside a mall.
She worked at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia and Disney World in Orlando, FL. In Kansas City, she grabbed headlines for her time as executive chef at Kansas City's iconic American Restaurant.
In 2007, Tio won the James Beard Award as Best Chef Midwest.
The following year, Celina surprised the culinary community and left the restaurant at Crown Center. Despite a recession - she started JULIAN.
"Eating is one of those few things that people don't give up," she said about tough economic times.
Tio poured herself into her new venture. She built the tables, painted the walls, trimmed the bar and tiled the kitchen.
"I like staying busy. And being able to do all of that is kind of, you know, empowering," she explained.
Tio will certainly stay busy with expansion plans. She plans to open two adjoining restaurants in the Crossroads area. The Belfry will have a relaxed, casual atmosphere while the concept of Collection is a throwback to her days at a Quaker boarding school.
"People would announce birthdays, thank their friends, announcements for school, whatever. It was kind of a collection of ideas, honoring your friends, passing of information, so that will be the main concept of lunch and dinner at that space," she said.
From her first stab at quick bread to her current creation, carrot-thai curry soup, Tio has undoubtedly made her mark on the world of food both locally and on the national stage.
To see Tio's home page click here. To see the website for JULIAN, click here.
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