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New culinary book explores the past and present of Wichita's food scene

Jaime Green
The Wichita Eagle
Joe Stumpe was food editor of The Wichita Eagle for 10 years. Here, he watches Domitilla Yu, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, prepare food from her native Korea. Two of her recipes are in Stumpe’s new book.

Former Wichita Eagle food editor Joe Stumpe's new book explores Wichita’s culinary history and includes nearly 200 recipes from restaurant chefs, home cooks and local celebrities.

Joe Stumpe’s life revolves around food.

Stumpe is the former food editor at The Wichita Eagle, and he’s taught cooking classes for years at various spots around town. He’s currently an instructor at Mark Arts.

So it makes sense that Stumpe’s latest book is all about food.

“Iconic Eats of Wichita: Surprising History, People and Recipes” was published earlier this year. In addition to exploring Wichita’s culinary history, the book also includes nearly 200 recipes from restaurant chefs, home cooks and local celebrities.

Stumpe, who is also editor of The Active Age, talked with Tom Shine and The Range about Wichita’s food scene.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Tom Shine: Who taught you to cook and to love food?

Joe Stumpe: Well, I feel I have been a little bit of a self-taught cook; lots of cookbooks. But I've always admired good cooking.

Both my grandmothers were good cooks, but one was sort of a professional pie cook. My mom said she could make five pies in the time it would take most women to make one.

I'm guessing most people have eaten in an ethnic restaurant in Wichita at least once. But you write about the city's ethnic grocery stores, which I'm thinking a lot of people probably haven't visited. What are they missing?

Well, they're just kind of a spectacle. I don't know how else to describe it. They're not just grocery stores. A lot of 'em have clothing and jewelry and the home furnishings, but the foods that they carry are, to say the least, a little bit outside of the norm of what you find in an average American kitchen.

In the freezer case, you might find a … frozen uterus or a bag of frozen duck tongues, or just, you know, a lot of things that would not show up on the usual American menu.

In your book, you mentioned Tanya Tandoc and Chuck Giles, who are local restaurant owners who were both murdered. Why did you feel the need to include them in the book? 

Well, I included Tanya because she was kind of a big influence on me when I first got to town. Definitely taught me some things and … she was so well known. I think she's still missed by a lot of people.

Chuck, on the other hand, probably flew under a lot of people's radar, but people that did know Neighbors knew it was a great neighborhood restaurant. It was some of the best pan-fried chicken I've had anywhere. And he was just sort of a very colorful character if you got to know him, which I was lucky enough to get to know him.

You include recipes from some local celebrities like former mayors Carlos Mayans and Carl Brewer. What local celebrity would people be surprised to know could really cook?

Nola Foulston’s a pretty good cook. Loves Italian food; comes from a big Italian family.

When you're teaching a cooking class, what's the most common mistake that cooks make? 

They probably try to rush through things. Like, I had a lady combine all the ingredients in a recipe the other day that were not supposed to be combined until they were kind of finished separately and put together. And so that was kind of a disaster.

A lot of cooks are reluctant to cook over high heat, and that's a real key to good restaurant cooking is searing food. It seals in the flavor; it creates a nice appearance. But a lot of home cooks are just maybe skittish about using high heat.

And they probably don't use near as much butter, cream and salt as restaurants do in their food. That's what makes it good.

I know you cook a lot. What's your go-to spice?

Go-to spice right now? Probably cumin, other than salt.

Cumin has sort of a warmth to it. And it's used in a really wide variety of cuisines.

It's used in Mexican food. It's used in Indian food and curries. It's just very handy. It … tends not to overpower food. It also blends nicely with other spices like chili and all the various spices that go into curry powder.

So if President Joe Biden and his wife were to come over for dinner at your house, what's on the menu?

I might make something in the book that … I've made a hundred times and it's the seared salmon recipe from Tony Card at the old Restaurant 155 in the Lassen Hotel. It's pretty much foolproof if you get a nice piece of salmon, and I'd probably make that with maybe a mango salsa.

And .. to introduce him to Wichita, I might also include a couple of our ethnic favorites. Like maybe some hummus from the book or some pico de gallo, something like that. Give them a little flavor of the town.

I know your wife says she'll leave you if you ever open a restaurant, but if you did, what would it be called and what would you serve?

Well, it would be called probably either Joe's or Sloppy Joe's; that’s a suggestion from Marty Johnson. I might serve sloppy Joes. Ideally, it would be one of these restaurants where the menu would change every day. I might have two things on it that stay the same, and we'd have a daily special, and there would only be three things to choose from, tops. That's it. If you don't want that, go somewhere else.

Who would enjoy this book?

Well, I hope that people that cook obviously will enjoy it. People that eat, maybe they can give it to a cook in their family and they'll feed them.

But there's also a lot of history in it. And anecdotes about the cooks involved.

You've heard about history written from the top-down or bottom-up. This is kind of from the inside out.

Here’s one of the recipes from Joe Stumpe’s new book, Iconic Eats of Wichita.

When I polled Wichita Eagle readers for the restaurant recipe they most desired, Saigon’s No. 49 came out on top, one measure of how popular Vietnamese food is here.

Owner Hanh Bui said the restaurant on North Broadway marinates the chicken overnight for this dish, but I found it tasted great when the chicken spent just five minutes in the marinade. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Hanh Bui

1⁄2 cup hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper

1 1⁄2 pounds chicken breast, cut into pieces about 1 inch by 1⁄2 inch by 1⁄4 inch thick 1⁄2 pound rice vermicelli noodles

1 tablespoon oil

3 cups shredded lettuce

2 cups bean sprouts

1⁄2 cup chopped cilantro

1⁄4 cup sliced green onion

4 tablespoons chopped peanuts


1⁄4 cup lime juice

1⁄4 cup fish sauce

1⁄4 cup water

2 teaspoons rice vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar

1 jalapeño, chopped Shredded carrot (optional)

Mix hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic and pepper. Place chicken in marinade while preparing vegetables and sauce. Make sauce by mixing lime juice, fish sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, jalapeño and carrot, if using. When ready to cook, prepare noodles according to package directions. Heat oil in a skillet or wok. Pour chicken and marinade into the skillet and stir-fry until done.

Among four bowls, divide lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, noodles, onion and chicken. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and sauce and serve.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.