Why does this likeable Immaculata High School senior and soccer team captain spend so much of his time in the kitchen?
"My never-ending appetite," says Nathan Reardon.
Though his lanky look belies the fact, Reardon really like to eat. Almost as much as he likes to cook.
And he's good at both. Recently he won a cooking award from the Kansas City Art Institute to prove it.
Preparing what he calls a "simple BLT wrap," Reardon won a citywide competition for the "best sack lunch."
"What set it apart," says Reardon, "though I didn't see many of the other people's competitions – but what I did, I just felt like I made it perfectly."
Nothing earthshattering in concept, Reardon's entry was just lettuce, cheese, bacon, ham, turkey, and tomatoes, "all rolled up."
Of course those onions were sautéed in bacon fat, one of the special touches that elevated his entry.
"I made one for myself (first), because I was hungry," recalls Reardon. "And after that I just said 'Let's recreate this as best as I could,' because I thought it was near perfect."
As one might expect from a teenager with a stomach that is self-described as "always hungry," he made two sandwiches for his entry, because he could get both to "fit in the same bag."
Now Reardon is planning to use his prize — a $100 scholarship — to attend the Art Institute's culinary program next year.
"I have been keeping an eye on the Art Institute since the middle of the summer – I was pretty dead-set on it when they called me back," says Reardon.
But the scholarship money was just a bonus; winning was important to "get your name into the school, so they know who you are."
For Reardon, the lure of the kitchen is nothing new.
"I've been interested in culinary probably since, like, the fifth-grade. It's been the one constant thing I've always liked."
The owners of Leavenworth's now closed Dusty Roads Barbeque first put him on the culinary path. Tim and Tony were friends of the family, and according to Reardon, made the best barbecue.
"They pretty much showed me what I wanted to do," he says. "And I just wanted to do what they did. Because they were really kind, and shared everything, especially food. I think that is what really set them apart."
Reardon cooks almost every day in his Leavenworth home. He recently was making a dinner/snack that included grilled marinated shrimp.
"Making all this is pretty much on a daily basis for me," he says.
On the weekends he cooks for the whole family, often using his backyard charcoal grill.
Page 2 of 2 - "Grilling is my favorite," Reardon notes. "We have a microwave, but, just, no. Microwaves are a no-go."
"Pretty much anything you can put on the grill I've probably put on there."
He also has strong opinions about charcoal over propane – "I like how (grilling with charcoal) tastes better, and I think it is doing less harm to the environment than putting some gas in the air."
What's his best dish?
"My steaks are to die for," Reardon says. "Whenever I make those I'm pretty pleased with myself. But anything I make I make to the best of my abilities."
His father instilled that competitive spirit, and they often have friendly cooking competitions at home.
"We'll go back and forth," Reardon says. "I'll cook ribs, and then he'll top it, and then I'll top it."
After soccer practice, and school, Reardon hones his skills as a line cook at Leavenworth's Mamma Mia restaurant in the evenings and on weekends.
On any given night, he cooks a lot of pasta. He started as a dish washer, and now handles the baked ziti.
A confident cook, Reardon still has his moments of teenager awkwardness in the kitchen.
When a dish takes a tumble, he comments: "For a chef, I'm also really clumsy."
But, he says, "My work ethic when it comes to food makes everything just that much better. I have really high expectations of myself."
And he knows that the life of a chef isn't always easy, especially starting out. Reardon says he's ready for the challenges, however.
"Once I'm out of my parents' helping hands, I'll probably be on that Ramen diet. Hopefully I'll be able to at least try the food I make at wherever I work."
But he is clear on his path, and he knows what he's after.
"Whenever I go to a fancy restaurant — like, say, Bravo's — and eat something that is just 'Oh my god this is so good!' — that's basically what I want to do," Reardon says.
"That's the reaction that I want other people to have when they eat my food. That almost euphoric feeling — that's what I want other people to feel."
Now, with scholarship in place, he has his first steps towards that life solidified.
"Culinary is pretty much the one true passion I have," says Reardon. "I like soccer, but culinary is what's going to get me through life."