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Hailing From Veracruz, Chef Carlos Falcon Brings The Tastes Of The Ocean To Kansas City

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Chef Carlos Falcon's restaurant Jarocho Pescados y Mariscos has become well-known for providing fresh seafood in Kansas City. Falcon channels the smells and techniques he learned in his mother's kitchen in Mexico.

Out in Kansas City, Kansas, just off I-70, across from an automotive plant, there's a little blue shack. Above the nondescript, but distinctive building, a sign reads "Jarocho Mariscos y Algo Mas."

Yes, on Kansas Avenue, in the landlocked heart of the United States, you’ll find the smells and tastes of the Gulf of Mexico. And soon, you'll find the same out in South Kansas City.

When Jarocho owner Carlos Falcon first moved to Kansas City 20 years ago, he was surprised to find very few seafood options.

"I always asked myself, 'Can I do this? Can I bring seafood to the Midwest?'" he says.

Carlos grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, 100 feet away from the ocean. His mother cared for him and his siblings on her own, and Carlos was the youngest of seven, so he caught crab and fish for meals and helped out in the kitchen. His first time in the kitchen, he remembers vividly.

"She was doing tamales, burned the crap out of me," he says. "But I remember the flavors, dried chiles, guajillos, cooked masathe smell of fresh-slaughtered chicken... It runs through my veins."

These smells and techniques inspire the cuisine that he carried with him when he left Veracruz.

After culinary school in New York City, Carlos followed his siblings to Kansas City, where he's made his home. He worked his way around the scene -- from owning a restaurant in Lenexa, to managing a nightclub on the Plaza.

After a hiatus from the industry, he followed his heart and opened Jarocho in 2014. 

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Ceviche is a popular dish at Carlos Falcon's restaurant. Falcon prepares it many ways, depending on what's fresh. This dish is a Tahitian wahoo ceviche with a cuttlefish ink sauce, and a spritz of lime and sprinkling of shaved red onion.

Carlos’ 77 year old mother, who still lives in Veracruz, recently came to his restaurant.

"My mom got to see the expressions of people loving what I do," he says. "Closing their eyes, putting that bite in their mouth. Her eyes got full of tears. It touched my heart big time."

When he first opened Jarocho, Falcon spent sleepless nights making sure he was getting the best fish to use in dishes inspired by his mother's cooking. He now has a "seafood guru," and contacts all over the world, receiving near-direct phone calls from fishermen reporting their day's bounty.

In his walk-in cooler, he has boxes of oysters from Maine and Virginia, red snappers from the Caribbean, octopus from Spain, wahoo fish from Tahiti and more. 

Of course, making phone calls and receiving deliveries are a far cry from running barefoot to the lapping shores of the Caribbean Sea, as he did in his youth. 

"That would be a dream come true," he says, "but this is home." 

As he prepares to open another restaurant at 131st and State Line Road in the coming months, he feels closer to his roots, and the sea. Shucking oysters in his kitchen always takes him back.

"It's like if you're sitting by the pier, that breeze hitting your face," he says, lifting the Pickle Point oyster to his nose. "That's what it smells like."

Andrea Tudhope is a freelance reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @adtudhope.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.