Lawrence People: Curt Yazza

Curt Yazza is a line cook at the ever-popular 715.  I’d probably eat there more often if I didn’t spend so much money on beer at Harbour Lights, escpecially after talking with Curt about the restaurant and what it’s like to work there.


Curt Yazza’s always got something cooking at 715.

Joseph Griffin: How does your day at 715 start?

Curt Yazza:  I usually get to the restaurant around 9, clock in, scope everything out in the kitchen, make sure everything’s in place, turn on the oven, the pizza ovens, get the water flowing in the pasta drop, turn on the oven that’s underneath our range, kick on the salamander, turn on the fryer, turn on the panini presses, open up our cold tables, set up our steam wells that hold our pork balls, lamb balls, cauliflower soup, split pea soup, and other miscellaneous items.  Once the kitchen’s good and ready I go downstairs, change, get into my uniform, get all the pots that I need, the third pans, the six pans, utensils, bowls and pretty much whatever we need on the line and take that up, get that squared away, get all the lamb balls and pork balls going and the soups going, go back downstairs, start prepping our quiche–and that takes a little bit–go back upstairs and start doing finer detail.  If we need more stuff on a cold table, make a list, go downstairs and get what we need, and go back upstairs and start prepping.  By that time it’s usually about 10, maybe a little before 10.  Start going and figure out what specials you’re going to run for the day on a sandwich station, what specials you’re going to do for a sautee station, what specials you’re going to run for a pizza and grill station.  Service begins at 11 o’clock.  And, usually, by 11 there’s people waiting outside.

JG: Do you work a lot of 12 and 13 hour shifts?

CY: I work two doubles a week.  Monday and Tuesday.  Come in at 9 and usually leave about 9:30 or 10 o’clock in the evening.  Doubles are pretty rough.

JG: What are some things you like to do when you’re not on the shift?

CY:  On my days off I like to ride my fixed-gear bike on long-stretch rides.  I also like to cook in my free time.  It’s more like in-depth cooking where you actually go in and prepare your own bread.  I make my own pasta.  I make my own soups and everything’s from scratch just like in the kitchen I work in.  Nothing in that kitchen comes in a bag or is pre-made.  Everything’s made from scratch in that kitchen and that’s a really good point.  It builds a really good work ethic.  Makes you a better cook.

JG: How did you get into cooking?  Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just stumbled into?

CY: When I was younger, I would watch cooking shows on PBS, and I started messing around in the kitchen.  Then I went to college, dropped out, played in a bunch of bands, toured for a little bit.  Went back to college, dropped out a second time, joined more bands.  I play drums.  Tried to fuck around on other instruments but I felt percussion was the most interesting.  And maybe five or six years ago when I came out to Lawrence from Arizona, I got a gig through Jimmy John’s, delivering.  And when we weren’t delivering, we would help out on line making sandwiches.  It’s only making sandwiches but then at the same time it rekindled this cooking aspect in my mind.  So after working at Jimmy John’s for about maybe six months I got a gig working at Jefferson’s.

JG: Making oysters?

CY: Oysters, yeah.  Burgers, fried food, did that for, I think, six months.  Then from Jefferson’s I got a gig over at Dempsey’s, and that was when they revamped their menu and they had the old sous chef from 715 take charge of the kitchen.  We made all of our own sauces: ketchups, mustards, three different aiolis.  We prepped our own salmon for salmon burgers.  I started working with an actual grill, and kitchen etiquette came in to play in a big way.  A lot of communication skills.  That kitchen is fucking small as shit.

JG: At Dempsey’s?

CY: Yeah, at Dempsey’s.  Three people is pretty much max that can work in that kitchen.  Four’s pushing it.  So, after Dempsey’s, I talked to the old sous–his name’s Matt Lawson–and he’s currently cooking in Saudi Arabia.  He’s over there making bank and cooking all this crazy, awesome shit.  He got me a gig over at 715 doing prep on the weekends.  So for about three months, I was working seven days a week–five at Dempsey’s and prepping on the weekends at 715.  Then I transitioned over to 715.  Started doing more prep work, worked my way up on to the line and I’ve been there ever since.  It’s been about a year–maybe a little over a-year-and-a-half–that I’ve been at 715 Restaurant.  I was at Dempsey’s for about a year.  And here I am now.

JG: How do you think 715 compares to some of the other places you’ve worked?

CY: There’s no comparison.  715 Restaurant is fucking awesome.  The amount of work and effort that’s put into each individual dish that comes off that line is far more substantial than anywhere else that I’ve worked and all the other kitchens.  It feels good to be able to work in a restaurant, in a kitchen of that calibre.

JG: 715 is a popular restaurant in Lawrence.  What do you think makes it so popular?

CY: I would have to say the food.  The food is where it’s at.  There’s also the atmosphere.  High ceilings.  It’s kind of dark.  No TVs, which is awesome.  We don’t have any taps, like beers on tap there.  Everything’s just straightfoward.  The service is really good.  Also the open kitchen is pretty fuckin’ rad.  At first it took me a while–probably took me about a week, maybe a week and a half–to get used to walking up on the line and having all these people watching you, watching you cook, really checking you out.  But it’s pretty awesome.  You get going and you tend to forget about it.  You do what you have to do, do what you love to do, and just cook.

JG: I was going to ask you what it’s like cooking in the open kitchen, if you get nervous with customers watching you do your job.

CY: There are some times when people sit at the chef’s table, which is six seats right in front of the kitchen.  It’s probably a two foot distance from the kitchen to where they’re sitting.  From time to time that still weirds me out.  There’s people that come and just hang out and some ask questions and a lot of them, most of them just watch, you know, like wide-eyed; “Oh, it’s like a show!  Whoa!”   Like it’s cooking theatre or something.

JG: On a busy night, how do you stay on top of things and keep track of it all?

CY: Usually when it gets really busy, it’s up to the expediter to sort everything out, call out what’s next, what’s coming up, on this ticket we need this, we need that, where is everything.  He’s pretty much the traffic conductor that funnels all the traffic out, all the food out on time.  And when I’m working on the grill or on the pizza station, I try to get everything out on time in order to fulfill each order, each ticket that’s called out.  It’s pretty strenuous, pretty tedious, working expo station.  But it’s great.  It’s a lot of stress, and once you get done with it and the rush is over, you’re just like, “Fuckin’ sweet!  Nothing really failed, nothing blew up.”


Duck Pillow. 5.11.2013. 2:28 a.m.


I want to name this duck pillow, I do, but I can’t because it’s not mine to name. It belongs to Kelly’s friend and is hers. A duck pillow like this must have a story behind it, and I want to know that story, I do, but I can’t because it belongs solely to the nameless duck pillow and will only be revealed if the duck pillow so chooses to reveal it.

We all have such stories, I feel, and can either choose to remain reticent or share them.

A string of events lead me to this duck pillow. A walk down Mass. St on arguably the nicest day of the year at that point.


Beers with friends at Harbour Lights and then Frank’s North Star Tavern for the Andy Stowers benefit, where Jamie played pool.


I went home around 9:30 p.m. and was just going to call it a night until the German entry to Eurovision, “Glorious,” by Cascada, got me in the mood to go dancing. Went to The Taproom and then The Replay, where things were getting crazy.


Then the duck pillow. It is what it is, just like Lawrence, KS.

So there you have it: drinking, dancing, and a duck pillow. Sounds a bit like a traditional blessing: “May your day be filled with drinking, dancing, and a duck pillow!” It’s another way of saying “May life be good to you.”



A Walk Down 9th St.

9th Street is lined with trees.  Trees never have to worry about what they wear or what women will think of it.  They never spend a cent at Urban Outfitters or Wildman Vintage, trying to define a look that will impress strangers at bars.  Oaks, Maples, a few others I know by sight but not by name; they always look impressive.  Tomorrow Jamie and I are planning on shopping for clothes on Massachusetts St.  Today I’m going there for a cup of coffee.


A FedEx truck turns left onto Arkansas Street, perhaps delivering chic and stylish clothes purchased on or eBay to a mid-priced house that may need a new coat of paint but still has a well-kept lawn.  I’m tempted to nab a bagged copy of the Lawrence Journal-World that’s still in the driveway of someone who apparently reads the newspaper later in the day and not over breakfast, maybe so they’ll have more time to pore over the style section as they watch Project Runway.


The scenery changes.  People filling up their tanks at the Kwik Shop.  Cars in the drive-thru at the Burrito King, a mural of a Jayhawk, the mythical bird mascot of The University of Kansas, painted on the wall facing 9th–at the Burrito King, the Jawhawk wears a sombrero and craves burritos or soft tacos.


I cross Mississippi.  People in the run-down but functional Payless Laundromat appear to have been waiting for their clothes all day.  The clothes are not in a hurry, however.   It looks like a laundry version of Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting in there.   An attractive girl on a bicycle wearing black spandex and a pink coat rides by on the sidewalk rather than in the bike lane.  I don’t mind.  Maybe it’s because I like the way her light brown hair lights up in the sun and seems to sparkle under the cloudless sky.  I could stand to buy a new pair of pants, I guess.  She probably reads VOGUE.


A few more blocks and I am officially downtown, resisting the alluring smell of freshly-baked bread coming from Wheatfields Bakery and the temptation to buy tea from House of Cha and am then at the corner of 9th and Mass, standing next to one of the oldest department stores in America, Weaver’s, established in 1857.  The mannequins in the window display are mainly female, outnumbering the male mannequins 10 to 1.


It is too early for a cocktail, but not for coffee.  The Bourgeois Pig serves both.  The place is nearly empty, unlike at night, when the small interior is filled with drinking people and it’s impossible to find a place to sit.   Right now, there are just a few people at the bar who seem to be friends with the barista and someone sitting at a table alone working diligently on his laptop computer.  The coffee is more pricey than at most places downtown, which fits the Pig’s upscale image, but is on special for 50 cents off a cup.  I pay the two dollars and sit out front on the patio.


There is the sound of construction from the covered parking lot across the street.  A girl in a white fur-lined coat walks by, carrying a brown paper bag.  A man with a long, white beard rides a bicycle out of the alleyway.  The bike has a basket that seems to be filled with cogs and screws, mechanical things.  Across the street, a young man wearing shorts and a coat walks by the US Bank.  A steady stream of cars passes by, stopping periodically, waiting for the traffic light to change.  At night, this street will be much busier than it is now, dressed differently.  And I’ll have to find an outfit to match.

7 conversation starters for your night out in Lawrence, KS

Downtown Lawrence, KS.  On any given night there are bar people doing bar things in bars drinking bar drinks talking about bar stuff, bar nights, and things that happen in bars.  If you want to bar it up with a Lawrencian and aren’t sure how to break the ice, here’s an initial list of topics to get you going:


The fucked-up state of Kansas politics.

The only way this topic would start a barfight is if you’re a firm supporter of Kansas’s present governor.  Or really hate gays.  Or have a large collection of automatic weapons.  Or think that Kansas is better without an Arts Commission in the first place.  The word “Brownback” has yet to be applied to a clinical disorder, but will be soon, I feel.  Just say something like, “Brownback is a shitty governor,” and someone will buy you a drink.


KU basketball. 

The Jayhawks are always either at the top of their game or are disappointing everyone in town, but, either way, they drive up business for bars.  Just say, “How about those ‘Hawks?”  Whoever you’re talking to will take it from there.  All you have to do is act like you know.



This seems to be one of those things people do but rarely talk about.  There’s probably a reason for this.  Just go to the Replay on a Monday night and you’ll find out.


Things that are going to happen and never do.

Try “Hey!  Let’s start a writer’s group!” or “There should be a film club,” or “We should get together in costumes and go out drinking on Friday” or “Let’s take that clown class at City in Motion in Kansas City.”  Don’t worry, no one will hold you to it.


TV shows.

THE WIRE, THE WALKING DEAD, BREAKING BAD, DOWNTON ABBEY.  I can’t figure out how everyone around here has enough time to watch all these fucking shows!  But this might explain why nothing ever gets done.  Just watch PORTLANDIA or ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and you’ll be fine.


Fucked-up things.

Bar people in Lawrence seem to know about the most fucked-up stuff.  Makes you want to drink more just to forget about it.   This article about a man trying to saw his own arms off should make a good conversation starter but don’t be surprised when someone one-ups you.



If nothing else, Lawrence bar people talk about problems.  There is a never-ending supply of problems.  A weird rash picked up at a music festival.  A crazy family member.  Bad allergies.  Noisy neighbors.  A stupid boyfriend.  A stupid girlfriend.  Gay troubles.  A bad pizza eaten at Intorno.  Medical bills.  Parking tickets out the wazoo.  And, to offset looking totally self-involved about your own problems, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about other people’s problems as well and to express a concern for their well-being.  And then drink.  And enjoy the time together.  Maybe sing some ABBA at karaoke, “The Way Old Friends Do.”