Jakob Polaco, 28

“I believe young cooks must have a knowledge and understanding of the cuisine they draw from before they can start free styling the concept. The composition first, and then jazz.”

In their own words
I’m the father of a 7 year old girl and I travel the world eating to use the inspiration to create new recipes, videos and stories from my trips. I am a restaurateur turned travel writer focused on Southeast Asian cuisine. I’ve worked in one of Asia’s top 50 restaurants in Bangkok and another in Indonesia. I have a big mean Triumph motorcycle and a very tough bulldog, Donut.

After operating my own restaurant, Aep, I learned a lot about the industry and what Kansas City wanted and needed that I could offer. I made the difficult decision to close the space and now focus all of my attention to capturing the culture and essence of the regions I love the most. I have several exciting trips lined up for the next year and plan to write travel guides, keep video logs and continue making recipes from my journeys. Maybe even a cookbook is in the works!

Life in KC
I used to work at a Thai restaurant in Joplin. In 2012, I started searching for jobs in Kansas City. I would use any day off I had to come up with a stack of résumés and try to get a foot in the door somewhere. I staged at bluestem, the American and a couple other places and landed at the American under chef Debbie Gold. Since then, I have worked for lengths with chef Patrick Ryan at Port Fonda and two years with Howard Hanna at the Rieger. My time at the Rieger was a huge impact on the  cook I am now. From whole animal butchering to ice creams, to sausage making and charcuterie, the skills I dialed in there are shown in the food I create.

I am fortunate enough to have a second family that is Thai who has mentored me long the way since a teen in cooking, culture, business, relationships and everything in between. They work relentlessly and have passed that ethic to me.

I want to be known as the Kansas City resource for all things Southeast Asian. I want to be that encyclopedia of an old man sitting outside playing cards or dominoes with another old friend, correcting bad mortar and pestle technique and tasting curries along the way.


And I want to open up a little 24/7 breakfast joint to sum up all of the truck stops my dad would take me to being a cross-country trucker. Gram Parsons plays around the clock and everything looks just like in the pictures. Yeah… the menu has pictures.

This town is booming! Explore, gain education, culture and perspective then come back and see it through. Apply yourself and chase your dreams well past the thousandth “no.”