Cooking for the Community: Chef Kyle Williams '06

Cooking has taken Chef Kyle Williams ’06 all over the world, but right now, the work he’s doing in his own home town is bringing him a new kind of satisfaction. Since 2014, Williams has served as the executive chef and general manager of the Live Blue Café in Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Kansas City headquarters. With the onset of COVID-19, the building — including the café — was shut. But Williams, who hated to see his crew sitting idle — and knew that there was an increased need for nutritious meals on the front lines — pitched an idea to his bosses: Bring my team back, fire up the kitchen, and let us cook for the community.

“You have to go out and do what excites you and what you’re passionate about.”

Providing Healthy Meals
“It came about six weeks ago,” Williams explains. “Everything closed down and I reached out to Blue Cross. I said, if we want to open up our café, I can make 200 meals a day and we can donate them. Basically the target was an outreach to impoverished areas via a company partner/nonprofit. With schools being shut down, some kids and families … may have little or no means to afford meals due to the economic downturn. So this is a great opportunity to provide healthy meals packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial macro- and micronutrients.”

Blue Cross KC liked the pitch and okayed the budget — which is how Williams found himself back in his Live Blue Café kitchen working side-by-side with his regular crew. Their nonprofit partner, House of Hope KC, organized the locations for meal drop-offs and contributed a delivery team ready to distribute the hot meals made by Williams and his team.

Their first week back open, their combined efforts meant more than 800 healthy, hot meals were delivered all over the city, from low-income housing residences to the KC Police Department and the nursing staff at St. Luke’s Hospital. For Williams, the response was beyond his expectations: “My staff has loved coming back to work. Everyone’s in good spirits. Probably the greatest success story is the food.”

JWU, Culinary Nutrition + Travel
Williams’ career has always mixed high-end dining with nutrition. He began his culinary studies at JWU’s North Miami Campus, then transferred to Providence to complete his bachelor’s degree in Culinary Nutrition. Prior to graduation, he traveled to Italy to work at a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Ristorante Don Alfonso 1890. Italy was eye-opening for him in many respects, from learning about the Italian classics to exploring wines — something he does to this day with the Savor & Swirl pop-up wine dinners he puts on with his wife, Hannah. (He cooks; she handles the front-of-house.)

Serving at Savor & Swirl | Photo: Esther J. KontnyWilliams’ fine dining resume includes work with Todd English, David Burke and Daniel Boulud. He credits his JWU culinary nutrition background for giving him a distinguishing skillset during his New York City stay: “Even though I was working in the New York chef scene where everything is butter and duck fat and foie gras, if someone came in and wanted a vegan entree, could I do that? Absolutely. And I've been able to do that my entire career, which really kind of makes everyone feel special.”

You can see that sense of detail and flair in Williams’ plating at Live Blue Café — and it’s something he’s instilled in his team, who transfer that thoughtfulness to the plate. Being a firm and fair leader in the kitchen is still a work in progress, notes Williams, but his focus is on building good morale: “It’s not a cutthroat kitchen, you know, but there can be healthy competition. What I’m really trying to do in my café is let people know that they’re supported.”

Powering Through Challenges
During the first few weeks of spinning up the House of Hope program, Williams’ team was tested — and more than rose to the challenge. “The first day was probably the most challenging. On a typical day in the café we’re doing meals from 7am to 1pm in the afternoon, so it’s spread out. Suddenly, we were pushing to get 200 meals out in 15, 20 minutes — we had to really rush to keep the food hot.” They quickly got up to speed, and now they’re on track to serve more than 5,000 meals by the end of May.

Savor & Swirl plate | Photo: Esther J. KontnyWhat happens after that is somewhat up in the air — depending on what the state determines is feasible — but right now the tentative plan is to reopen the café in June, with a soft launch at first.

He’s hoping Savor & Swirl can return to hosting in-person dinners, too, although what a pop-up dinner will be permitted to look like is also to be determined. For now, he’s taking part in virtual wine pairings where he shares recipes to complement the wine. Just this week, he shared his preparation for Châteaubriand paired with Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley.

For now, giving back to his Kansas City community is keeping Williams inspired and busy. “You have to go out and do what excites you and what you’re passionate about. That’s been my recipe for success … and it’s taken me to Miami, Rhode Island, Italy, Kauai, New York City. I’ve been on the Food Network. It’s all just from the foundations Johnson & Wales gave me.”

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Savor & Swirl photos by Esther J. Kontny


Chef Kyle Williams '06 in the Live Blue kitchen

On the line at Live Blue Cafe

Snack tray assembly at Live Blue Cafe

Kyle & Hannah Williams of Savor & Swirl | Photo: Esther J. Kontny

Wine tasting at a Savor & Swirl dinner | Photo: Esther J. Kontny