Thursday, November 26, 2015

Don Pepe--former Onassis chef at Cascone's only Sat. nights; gas pumper at Lenexa Costco six days a week: just grateful to be alive

One of the men I so admire is Chef Don Pepe.  And now you can see him and taste his great food, only on Saturday nights, at Johnny Cascone's, 91st just east of Metcalf.

Many of you recall his delicious cooking at his restaurant in the 80's on SW Blvd: Don Pepe's.  I have no idea how he made it to KC, because for three years, he was Executive Chef on the Christina, Aristotle Onassis' yacht in the Mediterranean Sea.

Usually folks who migrate from Europe to KC come for love.  Perhaps that drew our "Pepe" here. You'll have to ask him.

Now many chefs have a great gift: cooking.  Not so much with Quicken.  So in the 80's, Pepe lost his way, in the accounting and spending division, and we all lost a great place to eat.  But now, he's back.  But just four hours a week: at Cascone's.

On Saturday nights, in addition to their regular menu, and the live easy listening band, lots of Sinatra, tunes I actually know, the big thing is: Don Pepe comes out of the kitchen, in his chef whites, and tells you about HIS specials, on a separate sheet of paper.  And they are "delicioso".
My Saturday night movie group, from the Glenwood Arts and the Ks. International film festival, KIFF, dines there often, all 20 of us.  And when Pepe told us there were only 24 more servings left of his mega-giant fresh Scallops Spedini, well, 17 of our group ordered those.  I am allergic to garlic (hence my inability to repel single vampire men??) so I dined on one of Pepe's other remarkable specials, Salmon Piccata.  Not overcooked or dry like most restaurants.  Perfection.  With a side of noodles alfredo.  And caesar salad.  So generous I took half home.

But here is the rest of the story on this day of thanksgiving:
The rest of the week, you will find Don Pepe pumping gas for handicapped folks at the Lenexa Costco.  Now many would feel sorry for themselves, if they could only share their true gift from God a scant four hours a week.  Not Pepe.

Five years ago, he had a brain tumor.  And of course, doctors describe all tumors as being either the size of a sports ball, or a fruit.  So, out of respect, perhaps, Pepe's brain tumor was not a softball; it was "the size of a grapefruit".

"Tracy, I am so grateful every day--just to be alive.  The good doctors at KU Med Center saved me.  So wherever I am, here at Lenexa Costco, where I get to enjoy the fresh air and helping people, or cooking Saturday nights, at Johnny Cascone's, where I get to smell the garlic and butter and ultra-fresh ingredients, and feed people--I am always happy.  Come see me.  I'll give you a hug."
--Don Pepe