If you dine out much in Wichita, you probably meet and become familiar with some of the chefs staffing its restaurant kitchens.
Every now and then, those chefs switch up their jobs and try their skills in new kitchens, and it’s fun to follow them and see how they do.
Recently, several recognizable chefs have taken new jobs. One even returned to Wichita after an eight-year absence to take over the same job he left.
Here are details on some of the most notable chef shuffles that have happened in Wichita of late:
Chef Jennifer Reifschneider
Moved from Woodfire Grille at the Kansas Star Casino to 6S Steakhouse
Jennifer Reifschneider has been a rising star on the Wichita restaurant scene for years. A Maize High School graduate, she attended culinary school, and after graduating, she rose quickly through the restaurant ranks. She wasn’t yet 30 in August 2017 when she was promoted from sous chef to lead the kitchen at the Kansas Star Casino’s upscale restaurant, Woodfire Grille.
But after eight and a half years at the restaurant, Reifschneider said, she’s ready for a new challenge. In mid July, she took over as executive chef at 6S Steakhouse, 6200 W. 21st St., after former chef Omar Bernal moved out of state.
“It was a really hard decision, but I felt like it was a good opportunity to break out of my comfort zone a little bit and push myself,” she said.
Reifschneider said she’s revamping the menu at the almost 4-year-old restaurant and will be adding things like a lobster roll appetizer, a duck confit appetizer, a few composed seafood dishes and some steaks. She also plans to redo the dessert menu.
So far, she said, the new job has been fun.
“Basically, I have full control,” she said. “They’re very open and open minded.”
Chef O.J. Moore
Returned to YaYa’s Eurobistro after an eight-year absence
YaYa’s Eurobistro owner Ty Issa first hired Chef Owen “O.J.” Moore to lead his kitchen back in 2012. A year later, though, Moore — who graduated from Kapaun Mount Carmel high school in 1996 and earned a degree from Kansas State University — left and took a job working for Vail Resorts in Colorado as the executive chef for Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Recently, though, the resort sold to a private investor, and Moore and his wife decided they were ready to get back to Kansas and its far more reasonable cost of living. Issa needed a chef and welcomed him back, Moore said. He took over in June.
Moore has already revamped the menu at YaYa’s and populated it with summer-friendly dishes. He’s focusing on fresh, farm-to-table ingredients, and he’s also working on training his kitchen staff, he said.
Although it was strange to return to the kitchen he’d left so many years before, Moore said, he’s enjoyed being back.
“I was amazed at what hadn’t changed,” he said. “Chefs that come into restaurants like this are kind of known for wanting to put their stamp on things. But Ty had maintained some of the things we did right, and it was nice to see.”
Chef Kris Anderson
Recently took over at Vora Restaurant European
Kris Anderson has cooked all over Wichita and has had stints at YaYa’s Eurobistro, Tallgrass Country Club, Holiday Inn and even the Wichita Wind Surge.
Recently, though, he was recruited to take over the kitchen at Vora, the almost 3-year old restaurant at 3252 E. Douglas owned by Brad and Brent Steven. He started in late June.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Anderson said he feels at home making the type of European dishes Vora is known for. He’s also revamping the menu there and adding some new items, including several fresh fish options. He’s keeping most of the things the restaurant’s customers love, though, including mussels, calamari served in a Parmesan bowl, and French onion soup.
Anderson grew up in East Texas and joined the military. After, he took a job at a Mexican restaurant and decided to go to culinary school.
He said he loves the approach at his new restaurant.
“What I loved about joining Vora is that everything is fresh,” he said. “It’s brought in, made from scratch and then put out.”
Chefs Luis and Alicia Pena
Recently took over leading Butler Community College’s Culinary and Hospitality Management program
When John and Lexi Michael left Butler last year to help start WSU Tech’s new culinary program, Butler needed new instructors. And they happened to find another husband-and-wife duo in Luis and Alicia Pena.
Luis, who is the new director of Butler’s culinary and hospitality management program, was born in the Dominican Republic and raised by a mother and grandmother who were great cooks. When he was 11, his family emigrated to the United States, and Pena grew up in New Jersey.
He joined the marines, and after two tours in Afghanistan, he decided to attend culinary school, graduating from the International Culinary Center in New York City.
He worked in a number of east coast restaurants and specialized in pastry before his wife, Alicia — also in the military — was reassigned to Wichita’s McConnell Air Force Base. Alicia is also a culinary school graduate, and for a while, the two were running their own home-based bakery called Pinch of Grace Sweets.
Luis has had stints as a pastry chef at both YaYa’s Eurobistro and Lola’s Bistro in Wichita. He wanted to take over his own kitchen, though, and that’s when he learned about the opening at Butler. His wife, who’d also worked in east coast restaurants, joined the faculty, too, teaching pastry and baking.
Butler is about to relocate its culinary classes from the Boston Recreation Center in Wichita to Andover High School. The school also is planning to construct a new building to house its program in Andover, and it should be open in late 2022.
In the meantime, Wichita will likely meet the Penas and their students at some of the events they cater and participate in around the area.
So far, Pena said, he likes teaching more than he even thought he would.
“My main goal is to make this school the No. 1 school in the whole country,” he said. “That’s very ambitious, but I work as hard as anyone.”