Celebrating Female Chefs

Kansas City is one delectable place to live. From multiple James Beard Award semifinalists to national recognition for “food worth traveling for” and the nation’s “best new restaurants,” our culinary scene is brimming with flavor, diversity, beautiful aesthetics, and outstanding hospitality. We’ve rounded up five female movers and shakers in the industry to share their journeys into leading the charge in the kitchen and found out their favorite things about the amazing city we all call home.  

Laura Comer

Laura Comer has been the executive chef for the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts for 6+ years since earning an AOS in Culinary Arts from the California School of Culinary Arts and a Le Cordon Bleu diploma.

LL: Tell us about your background. 

LC: I pursued my degree at UMKC in the Conservatory of Music. By graduation, I fell back to what I loved and pursued being a pastry chef at the California School of Culinary Arts. I returned to KC and worked for several amazing restaurants like Bluestem and Indian Hills Country Club and eventually became Regional Chef for Treat America before the Kauffman Center position presented itself.

LL: What inspires you?  

LC: It can be a piece that our artists are performing, the season, our local availability, a piece of artwork, or a color palette. The beauty of The Kauffman Center is that it is a venue for artists, and they let me have that blank canvas to play upon. 

LL: Tell us about your favorite accomplishments. 

LC: Two of the things I am most proud of were competing on Food Network on Guy's Grocery Games and Hulu's Chefs vs. Wild. Doing both of those scared me to death, but I really want to prove to myself that I can do hard things and that you have to push yourself to be in some intimidating situations to grow. Chefs vs. Wild was especially new territory for me, but it was the most amazing experience of my life. 


Marissa Gencarelli

Marissa Gencarelli is the co-founder of Yoli Tortilleria. Born and raised in Sonora, Mexico, Marissa oversees the brand marketing strategy and spends most of her time building experiences which translates to developing products and fulfilling their mission.

LL: Tell us about your journey to Yoli Tortilleria? 

MG: We started making tortillas at home, as we were missing what we got in Mexico. It was a lot of trial and error until we got it right. We first started selling to restaurants, and in 2020 we opened our first retail experience, and everything exploded after that.

LL: What inspired your work?  

MG: I was very lucky with parents that loved food and the arts; we would travel throughout Mexico trying all sorts of different foods. Yoli means to live in Nahuatl (Aztec language) and it embraces the attitude to live fully and adventurously as seekers of the best-handcrafted goods.

LL: What are your personal favorites?

MG: A steak taco on a Yoli flour tortilla topped with cabbage and Taco Stand salsa is a taste of home, and it’s hard to resist our Totopos (chips) – the macha morita flavor is very addictive, and the chamoy flavor with a squeeze of lime while sipping a margarita is pretty close to perfection.

LL: Tell us about your favorite accomplishments. 

MG: We turn 6 years old this August, and every year we are shocked by our growth. Last year we were a James Beard Foundation semifinalist, and this year we are a finalist. We never dreamt that such a high accolade was possible for a small tortilleria like ours.  

Alejandra de la Fuente

Alejandra de la Fuente is Chef and Owner of Red Kitchen in Lenexa Public Market. Born and raised in Mexico, Alejandra fell in love with the art of cooking from her dad making breakfast every Sunday and was named as Kansas’ best burrito in Food & Wine Magazine’s “The Best Burritos in All 50 States.”

LL: Tell us about your background and journey to Red Kitchen. 

AF: In 2016 I started making tamales for my family, and the following year I started selling them successfully on Facebook. At the same time, The Lenexa Public Market was being built and looking for vendors, and after presenting my tamales, I was chosen to be part of it. Now, I also sell my burritos wholesale to The Roasterie, Revocup Coffee, and Daylight Donuts and have moved into a larger space within the market. I am excited to bring an even bigger menu, more hours, and craft cocktails.

LL: What is your personal favorite burrito? 

AF: Without a doubt, my breakfast burritos are addictive! They have my favorite ingredients of potato, egg, my salsa verde, and the best tortillas in town - Caramelo Tortillas.

LL: Tell us about your favorite accomplishments.

AF: Being a female business owner, immigrant, and doing everything from scratch has been my biggest achievement in addition to keeping and growing my business through COVID. Knowing that I was able to help people in Mexico by selling their handmade masks and sending that money to support them was very important to me.

LL: Name a few of your favorite things about Kansas City.

AF: Sierra Grill, Chewelogy, and Sushi Uni. Kansas City is so vibrant, open to new flavors, and I love being part of The Lenexa Public market.


Shanita McAfee-Bryant

Shanita McAfee-Bryant is an award-winning professional chef, Kansas City native, and community activist with The Prospect KC. She is a proud disruptor who finds if a system is broken, she is okay dismantling it to make sure that she is meeting the needs of the community she is trying to serve.

LL: Tell us about your journey to The Prospect KC?

SB: The Prospect KC has brought me full circle in my journey. I have been a teen mom, a single mom, and a woman of color trying to find success as a minority in the space of the culinary arts and restaurant ownership. However, I had advantages and resources other women in those situations usually did not. While I may have had the same pain points as other women in those situations, I always had a solid support system. 

LL: What are you most excited about with The Prospect KC?
SB: The 16-week culinary job training program is about offering participants the ability to learn solid kitchen techniques that transfer to the real world while exploring ingredients and dishes that excite the participants. Seeing the light go on with someone who is experiencing a new flavor, gaining experience with an unfamiliar ingredient, or mastering a technique for the first time – these are the moments of connection that I live for. 

LL: Name a few of your favorite things about Kansas City.
SB: Coffee: Cafe Cà Phê, Kinship Café, and Messenger Coffee on Grand Boulevard. Restaurants: Lula, Novel, Waldo Thai, and Extra Virgin. Activities: The River Market on the weekends; I love the energy and the vibe!


Nicole Shute

Nicole Shute is a high-profile chef and a member of the Les Dames D’Escoffier KC Chapter. Her experience finding inspiration from her restaurant experience in a country club to earning her chef apprenticeship at JCCC eventually led her to Chef of Verde inside downtown KC’s newest concept, Strang Chef Collective. 

LL: Tell us about your journey to Strang Chef Collective. 

NS: Before Strang, I worked as a banquet chef for the Marriott Downtown working with events including gorgeous galas and weddings. We hosted events for local chefs, a president and vice president, and the Chiefs. A specific Chiefs quarterback would at one point reach out to request a specific salad of mine be present at one of his events.

When the pandemic happened, I interviewed with Strang and was asked to create dishes from my proposed concept. And here we are, where Verde is alive and is a fusion of Latin American, island, and American with vibrant, colorful food and flavors. 

LL: What inspires you?  

NS: I'm constantly inspired by the joy I see from guests enjoying food experiences, by chefs working day after day, and by the constant innovations of food fusion, techniques, and reinventions. There is always something new to create even if it's a new way of making meatloaf or fish tacos. 

LL: What are some of your favorite accomplishments?

NS: I have such a love for my profession; it's truly a way of life for me. When I'm not at work I'm either researching and creating or enjoying other chefs' creations. And for those who say they don't really enjoy cooking, WE THANK YOU! 

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