Local family opens restaurant-farm for local fine dining – The Lawrence Times

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The Burning Barrel, a new farm-restaurant and event space in Lecompton, makes supporting local farmers as easy as sitting down for dinner.

Brian Strecker and Kristin Werner, the property’s co-owner partners, host three-course dining experiences made from their own fresh vegetables and animals.

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As guests enjoy an evening on the terrace of Burning Barrel’s Origin Restaurant, which overlooks 12 acres of Kansas pasture, Strecker and Werner emphasize taste as a tribute to a simple life tied to the land.

Strecker, a classically trained chef, has spent the past 20 years building a career in Midwestern kitchens. Lawrence became his home when he landed in the backhouse of Pachamamas, a former downtown fine dining restaurant, where he worked his way up to head chef.

“Since we sourced so many of the ingredients from local farmers, that’s where I’ve had a lot of connections and a passion for growing food,” Strecker says. “It’s also where I met Kristin. She was a waitress at the time.

When Pachamamas closed in 2015, it bought the property now known as The Burning Barrel, named after the cycle of life: coming into being and going back to ashes, and creating new life from what was formerly. This marked the beginning of his journey to build his long-term vision of a farm and a family, with a focus on sustainability.

Since 2018, the family has been engaged in comprehensive demolition and construction projects. Strecker and Werner have converted what was once a Christmas tree farm at 292 North 2100 Road into a holistic farm, which they share with their 21-month-old daughter, Opal.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times While staying at the Burning Barrel, guests can dine on the patio, overlooking 30 acres of Kansas prairie.

A menu that makes sense

Werner says all the work on their farm is full of meaning and intention. Livestock is hand processed on site and all plants are grown from certified organic seed or harvested from the wild prairie. While that attention to detail might mean long hours, that’s exactly what they wanted.

“We focused on what we could produce on the farm that would help us create a lifestyle that was comfortable, but also more in tune with our environment,” says Strecker. “The restaurant industry sends a lot of waste to landfills, from overproduction of food to the use of materials like gloves and boxes. We wanted to eliminate all of that while creating a healthier food source.

This zero waste and sustainable approach is infused throughout the restaurant. Werner, who grew up in Kansas City, began studying herbal medicine and agriculture in 2009.

“Working around the world with different farmers and farming styles, I’ve learned that everyone has an innate need to find a connection with nature. Everyone’s approach is different,” she says. “At Burning Barrel and Origin Restaurant, we try to create an environment where people can reconnect with the elements and each other around our table.”

With Werner’s extensive background in agriculture and the study of holistic lifestyles, this family prides itself on its commitment to regenerative agriculture. These agricultural practices have a positive impact on the climate by enriching the soil and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Burning Barrel’s crops are free of chemical pesticides and herbicides, and its animals graze on open pastures.

Origin Restaurant’s menu changes weekly, featuring the freshest produce from their garden and pasture. With a full commercial kitchen, licensed livestock processing facility, and open-fire roasting hut he built himself, Strecker cooks up dishes like free-range chicken with marjoram and plums, apple gratin hot pepper ground and a sweet corn soufflé with chocolate chili cream.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times This legume and herb piccalilli pie was the first of three courses at a Three Sisters themed dinner. This technique of intercropping — where corn, beans, and squash are planted together to support each other’s growth — was first established by Native Americans. The Burning Barrel aims to serve meals steeped in tradition and harmony.

According to Werner, one of the guests’ favorites is their Mangalitsa pig – known as the Kobe of the pig – a breed of pig inherited from Hungary with rich, dark meat marbled with clean fat.

“And we don’t just use them for pork. We also return all the lard from the pigs and look at how to use their skins,” says Werner. “We use every piece of pork we can.”

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Organize an experience

These practices are becoming increasingly common as a wave of restaurant farms sweeps across the country. Saltwell Farm Kitchen, a location southwest of Lawrence that serves food grown on their property, has exploded in popularity this year.

Eating an intentionally prepared meal at a restaurant that doubles as someone’s home can cultivate an inviting Midwestern atmosphere. But more importantly, this movement is carried by a growing number of conscious consumers.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times Chef Brian Strecker prepares the first course for dinner service.

Climate change and the pandemic have converged to make many people more concerned about their own health – and that of the planet. By supporting local food systems, people can reduce food waste, improve their carbon footprint, and learn more about plants native to their area.

“People get super curious about everything, and that sparks the conversation. A lot of guests ask me about the herbs we serve, and I can tell them the medicinal properties,” says Lowen Millspaugh, a waitress at Burning Barrel.

With two large community tables, The Burning Barrel focuses on connecting people to the land and to each other. One of Millspaugh’s favorite moments was watching complete strangers become friends over a meal. When a guest came to celebrate his birthday with a solo dinner, a group from across the table joined him. By the time they got their first drinks, they were all friends, sitting together on the same side and looking out over the meadow.

“It’s a farmer’s and a chef’s dream,” says Werner.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times Owners of The Burning Barrel say their pet dogs, Gus Ishtar (left) and Rey, often make special appearances during dinner.
Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times While staying at the Burning Barrel, guests can dine on the patio, overlooking 30 acres of Kansas prairie.

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Lawrence Times contributor Jordan Winter (her) graduated from KU 2019 with degrees in journalism and political science.

Discover his work on jrdnwntr.com. Read more of his stories for The Times here.

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