With a menu that changes weekly, expanding samplings of new wines and desserts, and an owner that is determined to continue the evolution of the atmosphere and aura of his restaurant, The Rowhouse Restaurant (515 Van Buren Street) has become a staple for Topeka foodies.

Beginning the week of January 16, 2011 and continuing for two weeks, Rowhouse patrons will have something new to look forward to – a guest chef.

For the first time since opening its doors in 2007, owner and chef, Greg Fox, is preparing to hand the helm over to a protégé, of sorts. Adam VanDonge, who has actually been a cook at The Rowhouse for two years, while completing his culinary degree at The Art Institute’s International – Kansas City campus, is seizing the chance to take charge of the menu.

In his two weeks in the role of head chef, VanDonge will be designing the menu, creating the dishes, plating in his own art form, and directing the staff. Fox only limited him to one restriction – to adhere to the menu cycle of the popular restaurant – offering at least three different entrees, including a vegetarian option.

“I think it will be adventurous, but not crazy,” hypothesized Fox of VanDonge’s approach. “He will try things that I have never tried. He brings a new set of eyes, a different approach and a different set of education skills.”

VanDonge will certainly be bringing a new look to the restaurant for those two weeks, with different plating presentations scheduled at every course. Unlike what guests have become used to, VanDonge will be playing with plating all dishes individually, noting that he will generally be following in the general theme of what Fox does each week, while putting his own spin on things.

“This is a chance for me to get my name out there and see what I can do,” VanDonge proclaims. “When he [Fox] asked me if I wanted a chance to take the menu and showcase my food, I was like “Heck ya!”

While releasing the reins for a brief two weeks, will be very challenging to Fox, a self-proclaimed “control freak”, it may also carry a melancholy tone, as there is an awareness that VanDonge may decide to leave The Rowhouse kitchen after his individual showcase and the bustle of the Valentine holiday season, to pursue experience in other kitchens.
Despite VanDonge’s possible future career decisions, he is looking forward to this opportunity as the first great endeavor in a long career.

“I am a little nervous,” says VanDonge with eagerness, “but, more excited than anything else.”

Although Fox has promised to stay out of the kitchen for the two weeks, he has not promised to stay out of the dining room – where he might (Spoiler Alert!) encounter a creamed cauliflower with corned croutons soup and a vegetarian option of pan-fried gnocchi.

For more information or reservations, contact The Rowhouse Restaurant at 785-235-1700.

[Jan. 15, 2011 | Janice Watkins | photo by Bret Arnold]

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