Hospitality expert Madeline Buechter talks fat-washing, front-of-the-house philosophies and her perfect day in KC.

Photography by Caleb Condit and Rebbeca Norden.

The best cocktail Madeline Buechter ever had was a seafood-washed martini created by Affäre’s bar manager Chase Ihde circa 2018. 

“We had this octopus bacon on the menu, and Chase had the idea to take the butter from cooking off the octopus and the scallops and wash it with gin, then pair it with a fortified wine,” says Buechter, who was also working as a server at Affäre at the time. “It was this briney, buttery cocktail and the first time I had a savory cocktail that wasn’t a classic dirty martini.”

When Buechter refers to “washing” the gin with butter, she is referencing the method of fat-washing, or combining a spirit with a liquid fat like oil or butter to infuse the alcohol with the fat’s flavor. For example, her Savory Summer cocktail at the new Mexican barbecue restaurant Barbacoa involves scooping the hot pork fat from the carnitas confit and combining it with tequila. The mixture sits overnight and is then strained through a coffee filter. The tequila is imparted with savory nodes of flavor from the carnitas but also with the sweeter elements like citrus and cinnamon. Fat-washing not only adds depth to a spirit, but also creates a more viscous mouthfeel. With the addition of mezcal, sherry, tomato syrup and yuzu, the Savory Summer is complex, bright and cooling. 

Buechter is the bar manager and one of the three owners of Barbacoa. She has spent over half her life—the last sixteen years—in KC’s hospitality industry and worked almost every front-of-the-house position, along with kitchen work and bartending. We met while working as chocolatiers at Christopher Elbow Chocolates in 2020, but the beverage side of things has always held her heart.

In the food industry, there’s the front-of-the-house employees (hosts, servers, runners and bartenders), who are considered the “face” of the restaurant, and then there’s the back-of-the-house employees (chefs, cooks, dishwashers). In my friendship with Buechter, I feel confident saying she is the epitome of a front-of-the-house personality. Caring and nurturing, she delights in being part of and creating her customer’s experience. 

When I ask about her personal philosophy in providing hospitality, she says she prefers to remain invisible: “My customers never needing anything—it just happens,” she says.

“It” refers to the small details, like removing the plates at the appropriate time, making sure diners have the right cutlery, refilling the water glasses. 

The cocktail scene can have an air of pretentiousness to it, but this mixologist wants her customers to feel comfortable asking questions and familiarizing themselves with the menu. 

“I think [the pretentiousness] is shifting, but that’s the last thing I want anyone to feel,” Buechter says. “I put my heart into this menu. So, yeah, let’s talk about it.”

Perfect Day

Coffee: Oddly Correct. I’m an Americano girl. Usually iced. If I’m hanging out there, I’ll journal and get a shot of espresso and a tea latte. They pull a great espresso. Also, I love a sweet and savory combo, so their biscuit breakfast sandwiches with the sausage and jam are great. They make their own biscuits, and they’re very bakery-like in that once they’re out of something, they’re out. So it always feels a little special to get one, especially on a weekend. 

Lunch: I’m ordering the turkey and swiss sandwich from King G. It sounds so basic but it hits every single time. 

Dinner: If there’s an urge inside me to dine, I want to go to the Antler Room. Their service is impeccable. The food always slaps. The wine list is excellent. It’s cozy. I feel like I’m always eating something I’ve never had before or I haven’t seen on anyone else’s menu. 

Late night drink: I just had the Urban Greenhouse cocktail at Drastic and it was so good. It had a snap pea-infused vodka and it was carbonated to order. It was like drinking a garden. Plus, it’s a welcoming place. The amount that they give back to their community is beautiful, and I feel good spending my money there. 

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