FORK IN THE ROAD: Chef brings unique culinary background to Junction City
When Chef Kalecia Simmons moved to Kansas and found food options were slim, she decided to open her own restaurant in Junction City.
For the past 13 years, Simmons has been traveling the world growing on her culinary journey.
She graduated from culinary school at one of the top school's in the country. After that, Simmons got an internship with Disney and ESPN in Orlando, Florida.
She took a break from cooking and joined the army, which eventually led her to Europe.
Simmons said, “I went to Morocco, I went to Nigeria, I went to Spain and France, I mean I ate all over the world. I literally made my time in Europe a travel food experience.”
She is no longer in the military, but now proudly wears the title of army wife. Which is how she and her family ended up in Junction City, Kansas.
"We got orders to Kansas and I took the time and I thought, oh god what are we going to eat there? What does Kansas cuisine look like," said Simmons.
When she realized Kansas was lacking in the variety she was used to, Simmons decided she would put her culinary background to use.
That's when the idea for her restaurant The Chef and I bloomed.
Simmons said, "I wanted to bring something that was very diverse, something that was very unique, and you can't get it anywhere else."
Having previous experience working in marketing she knew it was important to first build her brand, before she could ever launch the restaurant.
Simmons started promoting her food on Facebook, and selling it out of her home. That's how Joanna Castillo, a U.S. Army member stationed at Fort Riley, found Simmons' unique cuisine.
Castillo said, "I was on Facebook scrolling, and saw her on the Fort Riley Foodie Goodie page. She was selling food from home and she posted a picture of the food, and it looked very delicious."
Castillo ended up ordering a meal and picking it up from Simmons' house, and from that day on she said she was hooked.
In July, Simmons officially opened her restaurant, The Chef and I.
Castillo said, "I love seeing small home businesses blossom into bigger businesses, and then her food being out there now for other people to enjoy."
Customers can always enjoy something new too, because the menu is constantly changing. Which is part of the fun for Simmons.
She said, "I enjoy the diversity that I can create and I enjoy the suspense behind maybe today we have crawfish, you never know."
There are a few staples though, that Simmons said she will never get rid of. One of those is what she likes to call the "Kansas Crack Mac."
"Crack Mac is our house mac & cheese. It's got five cheeses, it's so delicious, it's yummy and gooey and then we just pile things on top of it. Fried shrimp, fried catfish, there's a lot of different dishes that I do with the Crack Mac. So, that's a big one on our menu. It's not going anywhere. My customers wouldn't allow it if I tried," said Simmons.
While her food makes Simmons standout from other restaurant owners in Northeast Kansas, that's not the only thing that defines her.
She said, "I'm a mom of six, I'm a homeschool mom, I'm an army wife. I have a lot of friends that look up to and admire my journey. One of the things that I like to do is set an example that there is nothing that we can't do."
Simmons hopes to inspire other entrepreneur's to take that leap of faith, all while continuing to bring the community delicious and unique food options.
The Chef and I is located at 1735 N Washington St. in Junction City.
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Simmons also provides catering services which you can learn more about on her website at www.thechefandikansas.com