Shawnee Mission Faces: Pablo Muñoz, executive chef at Tannin Wine Bar and Broadmoor Bistro graduate

A 2010 graduate of SM Northwest, Pablo Muñoz is now executive chef of Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen in Kansas City, Missouri. He spent a year in high school training at Broadmoor Bistro, the Shawnee Mission School District’s Center for Academic Achievement. For a few years after school, he gained experience as sous-chef of Justus Drugstore Fine Dining, and later helped open a restaurant in Colorado. He also enjoys cooking at home for himself and his loved ones, which comes with a lot less pressure than his professional environment. He can have a lot more patience and attention to detail. He lives in Kansas City, Kansas, with his dog, Ziggy, a lab mix. In the past several days, he’s returned to Broadmoor Bistro to work with up-and-coming student-chefs.

It was definitely a trek to get to where I’m at right now. I started cooking, more or less, here at Broadmoor. I was exposed to food, but I never really cooked until I was here.

My experience with food was always family based. It was something that always brought us together. My family worked a lot, and when it was holiday season or birthday or time for a meal, we sat together. There wasn’t much that I didn’t eat. I ate everything.

That was my first experience with food, and when I first started cooking, I didn’t know that that’s what I wanted to do. I started cooking here with Bob (Brassard). For me, he’s still Chef Bob. I cooked with him and I started realizing that this is something I wanted to do.

I was in a competition — it was a local competition – I got first place and that really sparked my passion for this.

It feels like a short time, but it’s been 10 years of me doing this. If anybody knows the industry, it’s long days and long weeks and a lot of dedication. We’re a unique breed, the chefs and the people that decide to run along with us, but it’s an industry full of people that, if you’re in the industry long enough, it’s because you care and there’s a reason.

I’ve learned a lot about being a chef in the sense that I’ve seen a lot of good cooks not be chefs and a lot of chefs not be that great of cooks, but what makes a chef is being a leader, and that is the most important thing. I know it’s cliche, but you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and it’s very true.

It’s true for me because, in my experience in the industry, I’ve worked pantry, I’ve worked grill, saute, I’ve worked, in my opinion, every station, and I know what my abilities can do on a station. If I’m part of a team and I’m asking chef, what do you need me to do, and they asked me to do it, I know I can do that station. I know that I can efficiently plate salads. I know I can sear a scallop. I know I can do those things. But the moment I become a chef, I’m not doing those things anymore. I’m trusting people to do it how I want them to do it.

There’s a large variety of people in every sense of the word. There’s people that are cooking every day that don’t like sweets. There’s people that are allergic to shrimp. All these people create your team. And so if you don’t understand your team and what they’re able to do with their abilities, you’re gonna fail. You can give one chef the same mix of five people, they’re all good at one thing and they all aren’t very good at other things. You can give two chefs that, and the chef that listens and understands is going to put them in a position where they can succeed, versus another chef that could be hot headed will try to force something that’s not there.

We can be in the middle of a Saturday service trying to force something that’s not there and our customers get 30 minute tickets versus being like, look, this is nothing personal, you can’t work this station because you can’t. Not being passive aggressive or aggressive, just being honest, like you can’t sear scallop, I’ve seen you try; I’m going to put you on salads ‘cause you can plate salads. It’s nothing personal and we need to get this done. Period.

People have different leadership skills, and there’s a lot of gray area, but that’s what I’ve learned, is listening to your team and knowing that there’s always something to learn every day. I’m not as patient as I thought I was, but I work on it every day.