Although Anita Moore has been cooking since she could hold a spoon, she didn't set out to be a chef. Moore worked in the corporate world for about 15 years before her company decided to shut down – with a silver lining.
The company offered the employees the chance to go back to school to learn anything they wanted, and the company would pay for it. Moore got her degree from L'Ecole Culinaire in 2013, "and I've been cooking ever since!"
After stints at The Westin, 99 Hops House and catering at The Midland, Moore opened Soirée New Orleans Bistro in Smithville, Missouri, in 2017. Diners love her dishes inspired by the Big Easy, including po'boys, Cajun boudin sausage and crawfish étouffée.
As Moore prepares to open a second concept, Southern Steakhouse and Oyster Bar by Soirée, in Kansas City, we caught up with her to talk Sunday night supper, the versatility of crab and her favorite breakfast spot.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? I would say that my favorite ingredient to work with and transform is crab meat, just cause you can do so many things with it. You can use it as it is, cold, you can use it to stuff something, make something – crab cakes, crab balls. Really, any seafood is my niche.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? We blend our own spices here, so I go down to the farmers' market and get all the spices for our special spice mix that we use specifically in our restaurant. And that doesn’t compare to anybody else’s. It’s the perfect blend of several different pieces, so that always takes even the simplest thing, like our french fries, to the next level.
What's your perfect day of eating in Kansas City? I would wake up and go to Breakfast & Lunch Lovers; it’s a locally owned restaurant in Raytown, Missouri. They have some of the best pastries and pancakes and awesome breakfast potatoes. So that would be my first step. For lunch I do like iPhotower down on Broadway so that would probably be my next stop. For dinner I would have to say – that’s a tough one, there's so many. I'm gonna have to say Black Dirt, which is Jonathan Justus’ restaurant down on Main. Amazing fried chicken, [and] I like that he uses a lot of local ingredients, so that would be my next one. For drinks I would probably step out and go to P.S. Speakeasy, which is also another awesome restaurant as well, but they do have some amazing drinks.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? It's so amazing, because it's more local owners opening up, not a lot of franchises, which is amazing. We do have those, but just to see people with a passion and wanting to get something from the ground up and running is amazing.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Kansas City? I would like to see more Thai food. We do have one that just opened, Waldo Thai [Place], and it's awesome, but I would like to see more ethnic food [restaurants] open up.
Who are some Kansas City chefs you admire at the moment? Jonathan Justus. Another one would be Colby Garrelts and Megan [Garrelts], who own Rye. I admire their work. Just all the up and coming chefs and some who people don’t know who work in the hotels and restaurants that are spoken about a lot are really great as well.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off, or do you even cook at home? I try to keep Sunday dinner kinda sacred. I try to get home after Sunday brunch at the restaurant and cook something up for the family, either just fried chicken or just the traditional meals we had growing up – pot roast, greens, mashed potatoes. We don’t get too fancy; we just like comfort food at home.
What’s your favorite comfort food? My favorite comfort food would be greens and oxtail stew.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? I would say don’t believe everything that you see on Food Network [laughs]. You're not gonna be a star overnight. It takes a lot of grit and grime to stay in this business. And just cook from your heart. Take some pointers – I've learned some things off that [channel] as well, but don’t believe all the hype.
What is your first food memory? One of my first food memories would be cooking in the kitchen with my grandmother every Sunday. My father worked at the railroad, so every Sunday while he was at work, we would make sure he had a lunch to come home to. So every Sunday, we would make biscuits from scratch, we would be doing something with cow tongue. It was really my first prep kitchen, now that I look back at it, because she always had me doing something: peeling potatoes, making rice. It's an awesome memory to have. Once the lunch was ready, then my dad walks in, and we all sit down and have lunch together.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? Well, everyone seems to be intrigued about the southern-fried deviled eggs. This is something I came up with while actually working at another restaurant. I just told myself, "I wonder [what would happen] if we cook these eggs and kinda deep fry them?" So I did it, and topped it with something we had there. Now, we [put] our own pimento cheese in the egg mixture and top it with the smoked pork, and everyone's amazed by it. It's one of our top sellers, and I don’t think it's going off the menu anytime soon.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? Normally, if I have an idea that pops up in my head, it’s a process. I think about it all day, probably all night, and it's maybe a week before I get to it. Then we play around with it in the kitchen, and we run it as a special, and if it goes well, it stays. If it doesn’t, we’ll run it another time and just see how people pick up on it. Everything that I've pretty much run here, though, people want me to keep on the menu, and they don’t understand that I can’t keep everything on the menu – it’d be a pretty hefty menu!
What are your future plans? I’m in the process of opening a second concept down in our historic 18th and Vine Jazz District. I'm trying to really get away from the New Orleans [food] especially since it's in the Jazz District. I'm going to do a steak and oyster house, so it's really gonna focus on meat and potatoes, something that I grew up with. A lot of items like green tomato chow chow that we used to make growing up, which is basically green tomato salsa, a charcuterie board that includes head cheese, some braunschwager. I'm really excited about this project. They actually started construction on it last week, and I'm hoping we will be ready to go, I'm gonna say end of January, maybe first of February.
Soirée New Orleans Bistro, 14121 Earthworks Drive, Smithville, Missouri, 913.952.8986, facebook.com/soireeneworleansbistro