It’s difficult to recall a time when Harrisonville native Nick Wesemann did not know his way around a kitchen.
Wesemann’s grandparents owned a bakery about an hour away from his hometown in the community of Nevada, and he would often help out them out in the kitchen.
Creating delectable desserts interested Wesemann – and would eventually become his career.
“I always cooked growing up,” Wesemann said. “It was always something what I wanted to do.”
Today, the 31-year-old is one of the best pastry chefs in the country, and practices his craft in the kitchen at The American Restaurant in Kansas City’s Crown Center District.
Wesemann is one of three local chefs from Kansas City to have recently been named a national semifinalist for the coveted James Beard Award, the highest honor for food and beverage professionals in the nation, often referred to in culinary circles as the Oscar of the food world.
To be eligible in the contest, Wesemann was nominated for the Outstanding Pastry Chef category after members of the food community placed thousands of online nominations.
Two other Kansas City semifinalists, both tabbed in the “Best Chef” in the Midwest category, include Howard Hanna, from The Riegel Hotel Grill and Exchange, and Ted Habiger, of Room 39.
Habiger and Hanna are among 20 chefs within eight Midwest states for their category.
According to Dave Eckert, producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which airs on PBS, Wesemann’s nomination for the award is even more impressive since the pastry chef category isn’t subdivided into regions. It’s national, meaning Wesemann can be considered among the top 20 pastry chefs in the country – competing against top chefs in big cities around America.
“Professionally, it’s awesome to be grouped up with all the other pastry chefs (nominated),” Wesemann said. “There’s some really big names and restaurants that are up for it.”
Kansas City is home to several past James Beard Award recipients. Wesemann said it’s a testament to the quality of dining within the community.
“We’re putting out some good food in this town,” Wesemann said. “It’s keeping Kansas City on the map.”
As a child, Wesemann was known for making profiteroles and meringues with his family since before he could even tie his own shoelaces, and making dinner before learning to ride a bike, according to his biographical sketch on the American’s website.
After graduating from Harrisonville High School in 2001, Wesemann donned on a white chef coat and apron and enrolled in the apprenticeship program at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.
While studying, he spent three years working at the Hyatt Regency at Crown Center.
He also found time to participate in the college’s competitive 5-person culinary team, which allowed him to travel and expand his culinary knowledge creating full-course meals with his teammates.
After graduation in 2005, Weseman took a job as a line cook at the prestigious American Restaurant as a line cook.
About a year later, Wesemann was presented with the opportunity to become the pastry chef at the American, and has been at the job since.
“I am responsible for all of the desserts – coming up with them, testing recipes, writing the menu,” he said.
Wesemann takes his work seriously, as he gives restaurant-goers the final taste of their dining experience.
“It’s the lasting impression that people leave with,” Wesemann said.
Wesemann will find out next week if he’ll move along further along in the competition, and in making his dream a reality.
“I never thought it would happen because the stakes are so high,” Wesemann said.
Finalists will be revealed Tuesday, March 18. Winners will then be announced in May at an awards ceremony in New York City.