Ramen shakeup: Joe West and Erik Borger dissolve Komatsu-Kusshi partnership

The culinary partnership of chef Joe West and Il Lazzarone owner Erik Borger ended this week, with both parties steaming like a pot of boiling noodles.

West, a former chef de cuisine for Bluestem, had been hired as executive chef for the yet-unopened Komatsu ramen restaurant at 3951 Broadway. He and Borger had also established an arrangement for West to open his dream restaurant, Kusshi, in a separate room within the Komatsu space.

A series of disagreements led to that deal’s collapse May 9.

“You could say we had creative differences,” says Borger, who now plans to become the executive chef of Komatsu himself.

With the deal’s collapse, West tells me, also goes what he says was an offered 10-percent ownership stake in both Kusshi and Komatsu, in exchange for helping to open Komatsu and later training his replacement. Kusshi, West says, was to have been a restaurant within a restaurant, serving an eclectic menu of small plates to about 30 patrons at a time.

“I’ve gone back to my original business plan,” West says. “I’m refining and changing a few things and looking for investors again.”

The ill-fated partnership began last autumn, when Borger hired West to be the consulting chef for Komatsu. By the beginning of 2016, West’s role in Borger’s restaurant had expanded to full-time executive chef, also overseeing the creation of Kusshi within the walls of the sprawling Komatsu venue (which will be, when it opens, the largest ramen restaurant in the metro).

West, a Kansas City native, says that he would like to stay in town but is entertaining offers in other cities. (After leaving Bluestem several years ago, he took an executive-chef position at a hotel in Cincinnati for a year.) He adds that he’s less interested in opening Kusshi in any specific Kansas City neighborhood than he is in making sure the venue’s shape and size are in line with his vision.

“Kusshi will be an a la carte menu, not a tasting menu,” he says. “There will be some Asian influence — I’m half-Japanese — but my cooking background is in European and Western cooking. I’ll create a menu of seasonal dishes. It’s kind of hard for me to explain my style of food.”

While West looks for his next opportunity and proceeds with fulfilling a schedule of upcoming Kusshi pop-ups, Borger says he plans to open Komatsu on his own. No opening date has been set. “We’re getting close,” he says.

Categories: Food & Drink