Name: Josh Rathbun
Location: Siena Tuscan Steakhouse (Wichita, KS)
Why is sustainability in the culinary industry important to you? First and foremost, I have 2 children and I see my role as a father as not just a caretaker of my children, but also the world I will leave to them. I have had great opportunity and experience in my life, and I desire to share that with my hometown community in Wichita, KS. I also believe in the sustainability of heritage breeds and slow food; the current model of mass produced “food” is slowly poisoning our country and world. These breeds and techniques for producing food are a great alternative now, but will soon be the only path forward and need to be cultivated on a grander scale.
How do you currently Change Menus, Change Lives in your work? The menu at Siena changes with the season, but the biggest opportunity we have to change lives comes from a few menu items that change daily. Early on in my tenure at Siena, I was happy to be utilizing great local produce and proteins on the menu, but was limited in what I accepted to what I limited myself to on the menu. Last year we introduced the “Farmer’s Pasta” and this spring the “ICT Harvest Salad”. These two dishes allow for me to accept as much local produce from farmers as possible. It also provides a creative outlet for young cooks to begin creating dishes using these ingredients.
I also am the Chef Chair for the Great Chefs of the Midwest, a culinary event that raises money for the National Kidney Foundation. I have chaired this event for the last 3 years, first in Denver, now in Wichita, and have raised over $200,000 for the National Kidney Foundation. I try to educate the public about healthy eating, teaching cooking classes at the local women’s fair, as well as at the county extension office. The course I teach is called “Farmer’s Market Solutions”, where I teach folks about how to utilize produce from Farmer’s Markets.
What do you love about the Wichita, KS local food community in particular? The amount of specialized farmers in and around Wichita is mind blowing and makes the work of a chef that much easier. The local food system features Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch, Frank Reese Jr.’s mecca of heritage breed chickens and turkey, as well as Rare Hare Barns where Eric and Callene Rapp grow rabbits while helping to lead the Livestock Conservancy. Hometown farming heroes like Jimmy Vo and Leah Dannar-Garcia are not only committed to growing outstanding quality produce but strive to grow the food culture in our community. The Molello family of Strong Roots Healthy Farming has dropped produce at our back door for the past 68 consecutive weeks. As a chef I feel lucky to have so much available to me and I feel a responsibility to support these local producers, to share their hard work with the community through education and plates of delicious food.
What’s a future project your excited about? I, like many young chefs, am excited about the possibility of opening my own restaurant. I dream of a place that incorporates growing food around the property into the menu and continuing education of the chefs. As we move forward in this world the necessity of teaching people how to grow and cook their own food becomes more and more apparent. I hope to incorporate that into all my future projects.