If you have a sophisticated palette and are seeking out a modern culinary scene – look no further than Strang Hall located in downtown Overland Park, home of the Strang Chef Collectives.
Michael Mackie, Emmy award-winning Kansas City personality, sat down with chef Cole Suchka of Tora Zushi, to chat about his foray into chef-dom, the OP food scene and all things culinary
Like any good seasoned culinary pro, chef Cole Suchka has quite an interesting backstory. Long before he became the chef de cuisine of Tora Zushi at Strang Hall, Suchka grew up playing football in Texas.
When a family friend—who would eventually become his brother-in-law—suggested he should try working in a professional kitchen, Suchka recognized how teamwork also translated to working in busy restaurants. Now, in true small world fashion, that family friend happened to be chef Justin Hoffman of the acclaimed Broadmoor Bistro!
One Suchka dipped his toe into the culinary waters, he quickly found cooking gave him focus and he went on to attend Johnson & Wales University for Culinary Arts in North Carolina. You name the foodie genre and chances are Suchka has honed his craft in that arena. For instance, his professional cooking journey has included stops at an East Coast pizzeria known for unique toppings and an upscale burger restaurant in New York City.
We caught up with the chef in-between putting the finishing touches on his rockstar menu—and, more importantly, how his love of cooking knows no bounds.
MM: You have an extensively glorious—and somewhat random—culinary pedigree. What things piqued your foodie interests early-on—and what trips your culinary trigger nowadays, so to speak?
Chef Suchka: “The kitchen is full of controlled chaos, the adrenaline working on a well-oiled line is what I fell in love with. I always loved food, but learning the ins and outs of how it’s created is what made me interested in becoming a chef.
Today I’d say that interesting and unfamiliar ingredients grab my attention. I’m always looking for new flavor profiles.”
What was the genesis of the French-centric meal you're preparing?
“I guess the menu started in a sense where I started in my career, which was learning traditional French culinary techniques. But I was driving to Colorado recently with my family. As a passenger, it gave me some time to be creative and think about the meal I wanted to share.”
You make a mean gourmet sushi roll, but what are some other dishes you can absolutely crush?
“Growing up watching my mother cook, I always aspired to be able to copycat some of her signature meals. Still haven’t quite got it right, but I can make a mean goulash at the snap of a finger.”
You're famous for your improvisational culinary skills in the kitchen. Where did that come from—and what's been your best, uh, happy accident?
“When I was working at the now-closed Taste, I was always watching and absorbing as much knowledge as possible. Watching my brother-in-law Justin Hoffman (now a culinary instructor at Shawnee Mission’s Broadmoor Bistro) come up with specials in an instant while gathering ideas from his line, I realized creating on-the-fly with what is available was an important skill to have as a chef.
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever had an accidental recipe, but creativity always starts as an idea—and then becomes something different and better than the initial thought.”
You're from Texas and studied in the south. Do you have more of an affinity for cooking Southern cuisine or eating it?
“Eating it always and forever! We all become chefs because we love cooking food, but that stems from eating your favorite foods. I would literally give my left arm for a smoked brisket from Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas.”
How has the food scene in OP changed over the years—and what should visitors know about it?
“I think it’s changed in only the best ways. Of course, we still have our staples like Lemongrass, and The Peanut. But with the ever-evolving farmers market and the addition of Strang Hall, I think we are headed in a great direction.”
If someone is coming to visit OP, where are three places you'd send them—and what dishes should they order?
“Not to toot our own horn, but the Kobe beef burger here at Tora Zushi is definitely worth coming in and trying. Another one of my favorites are the wings from The Peanut -- they’re something special, as long as you’re not scared to get your hands dirty.
Another great place? Buck Tui BBQ. It’s pretty new, but I can say that it is spot-on with the mix of KC barbecue and Thai cuisine. In my opinion, The X Man sandwich is also a must-have.”
Finally, just how many tatts do you have? Are there any inspired by your culinary experiences? Is your next one going to pay homage to France in some small way?
“It’s funny. I get asked this question a lot because mine are so visible. But I actually only have 10, I just decided to get the most painful areas out of the way first.
I plan on having a couple of different tattoos to pay homage to my early kitchen experiences. Let’s just say if I was to travel to France then maybe I’d get a tattoo there.”