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Local family opens farm-restaurant for homegrown fine dining

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

Brian Strecker and Kristin Werner, the partners who co-own the property, host three-course fine dining experiences curated from their own fresh vegetables and animals.

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As guests enjoy an evening on the patio of the Burning Barrel’s Origin Restaurant, which overlooks 30 acres of Kansas pastures, Strecker and Werner emphasize taste as tribute to a simple life connected with the earth.

Strecker, a classically trained chef, has spent the past 20 years on a career-building journey in kitchens throughout the Midwest. Lawrence became his home when he landed in the back-of-house at Pachamamas, a former fine dining restaurant downtown, where he worked his way up to head chef.

“Since we got to source so many of our ingredients from local farmers, that’s where I got a lot of my connections and 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, he bought the property now known as The Burning Barrel, named after the cycle of life: coming into the world and leaving as ashes, and creating new life out of what once was. This marked the start of his journey to build his longtime vision for a farm and family, with a focus on sustainability.

Strecker had been engaged in full-on demolition and construction projects for three years when Werner joined him in 2018. Strecker and Werner have converted what was once a Christmas tree farm at 292 North 2100 Road into the holistic homestead, which they share with their 21-month-old daughter, Opal.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times Burning Barrel guests enjoy a dinner on the patio, overlooking 30 acres of Kansas prairie.

A menu with meaning

Werner says all the work on their farm is full of meaning and intention. Livestock is processed by hand on-site, and all plants are grown from certified organic seeds or foraged from the wild prairie. Although this attention to detail can mean long hours, it’s exactly how they intended.

“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,” Strecker says. “The restaurant industry sends a lot of waste to the landfills, from the overproduction of food to material usage like gloves and boxes. We wanted to eliminate all that stuff while creating a healthier food source.”

This low-waste, sustainable approach is infused throughout the restaurant. Werner, who grew up in Kansas City, started studying plant medicine and farming in 2009.

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

With Werner’s extensive background in farming and studying holistic lifeways, this family takes pride in its commitment to regenerative agriculture. These farming practices positively impact the climate by enriching the soil and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The Burning Barrel’s crops are free from chemical pesticides and herbicides, and its animals forage on open-range pastures.

The Origin Restaurant’s menu changes weekly, featuring the freshest offerings from their garden and pastures. With a full commercial kitchen, licensed livestock processing facility, and open-fire roasting hut that he built himself, Strecker prepares dishes like marjoram-plum farm chicken, hot pepper potato gratin, and sweet corn souffle with chocolate pepper cream.

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times This legume tart and herb piccalilli was the first of three courses during a dinner themed after the Three Sisters. This intercropping technique — 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 rooted in tradition and harmony.

According to Werner, a guest favorite is their Mangalitsa pork — known as the Kobe of pork — a Hungarian heritage breed of pig with rich, dark meat marbled with clean fat.

“And we don’t just use them for pork. We render all the lard off the pigs too, and we’re looking into how to use their hides,” Werner says. “We use every last bit of pigs that we can.”

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Curating an experience

These practices are becoming more common as a wave of farm-restaurants sweeps the nation. Saltwell Farm Kitchen, an establishment located southwest of Lawrence that serves food grown on their property, has skyrocketed in popularity this year.

Eating an intentionally prepared meal in a restaurant that doubles as someone’s home can cultivate an inviting Midwestern atmosphere. But more importantly, this movement is being driven 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 mindful of their own health — and the planet’s. By supporting local food systems, people can reduce food waste, improve their carbon footprint, and learn more about the native plants in their area.

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

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

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

Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times The owners of The Burning Barrel have two pet dogs, Gus Ishtar (left) and Rey.
Adam Johnson/Lawrence Times Burning Barrel guests enjoy a dinner on the patio, overlooking 30 acres of Kansas prairie.

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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at jrdnwntr.com. See more of her work for the Times here.

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