Can an ordinary cook make an ordinary dessert taste extraordinary? Like to die for? In about a minute? Jasper Mirabile, Jr., says yes.
Mirabile’s unconventional cooking tips are a regular feature of “Live from Jasper’s Kitchen,” a hugely popular radio cooking show that he broadcasts live on KCMO Talk Radio 95.7 FM and 710 AM every Saturday from 11 am to noon.
Mirabile’s passion for food has inspired him to write cookbooks, lead cooking tours of Italy, give cooking classes and host his own radio cooking show.
The idea for the show began in 2007, Mirabile says, “when my friend David Ball and I were having lunch and he says, ‘I’m looking at this cookbook you just wrote (Jasper’s Kitchen Cookbook), and you need a radio show.’” And the rest, as they say, is history. Ball, chairman and CEO of Balls Food Stores, sponsors the show.
Mirabile’s approach for getting guests on the show is simple. “I don’t have a secretary or anything like that,” Mirabile says. “I just call people up. Yeah, I’ve had Wolfgang Puck and Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse on the show. But I love the little guy, too. There’s this Noah Belcher, 19 years old. He’s going to be world famous. Our young Kansas City chefs can stand their ground with any chef in the country.”
Mirabile remembers being nervous when Bobby Flay, celebrity chef and restaurateur, agreed to be on the show.
“I really thought I was being set up for Bobby’s ‘Throwdown,’” Mirabile says, referring to Flay’s nine-season show on which he challenges award-winning cooks by preparing their specialty dish and having impartial judges decide which is better.
“I get to the station and there’s a crowd of people waiting—hundreds of cars and TV cameras,” Mirabile says. “I get on the elevator with this strange guy, and when we get off, everybody starts screaming. But it’s not for me. And it’s not for Bobby Flay.”
Mirabile grins. “It was David Cook, who rose to fame after winning the seventh season of American Idol in 2008. Bobby Flay and I just laughed about it. But I did tell him we should do a Throwdown someday, perhaps meatball or cannoli.”
Mirabile doesn’t do any prepping before air time. “I want it to be a conversation, but my producer John Taylor has brought the show to a new level by editing the music and creating the perfect backgrounds.
“I do the show from my kitchen because that’s where I work,” Mirabile continues. “I’m interested in food and where it comes from. I go to the grocery store at least three times a week to look at what’s just come in and create ways to incorporate it into the show. I go to Tippin’s and talk to the guy who makes pies. I go to Shatto’s Dairy and milk the cows and make the cheese.”
Mirabile’s passion for food and his collaboration with chefs worldwide result in a show that is rarely predictable but always overflowing with insider information. Another surprising tip from the show: “Fudge made with Velveeta,” Mirabile says. “Yeah.”
The show has featured Italian Christmas cookies, Arthur Bryant’s, Chef Dana Cree, Freshwater Fine Dining, the Sicilian Tenors, Gene Simmons, Manny’s and the Kauffman Stadium Kosher Cart.
Mirabile says sometimes the most random occurrences can lead to fascinating interviews. “The guy fixing my pool told me he was going to Florence, Kansas, for motorcycle racing,” Mirabile says. “So of course I ask him where he’s going to eat, and he says: ‘The Brandin’ Iron. It’s this cool place—an old opera house that’s been renovated and has great steaks.’ So I called the restaurant and had Sara Dawson, one of the owners, on the show.”
Mirabile grew up in the restaurant business. In 1954, his father founded the iconic Jasper’s Ristorante on 75th Street and Wornall. “Everybody knew my father Jasper,” Mirabile says. “People still remember the tuxedoed waiters and the white tablecloths and the fabulous veal parmigiana.
“My nonna and poppa helped him open the restaurant,” Mirabile continues. “Getting the Mobile 4 Stars, AAA 4 Diamond Award, Zagat’s list of best Italian restaurants, the DiRoNA Travel Holiday Award—this meant so much. And my dad wasn’t the only great cook in the family. Barilla has my grandmother’s recipe, Capelli d’Angelo alla Nanni. Everybody loved her food.”
Mirabile has always been passionate about food. “I attended the University of Las Vegas Restaurant and Hotel School, and I’d just returned from New York having watched Macy’s Cellar cooking classes,” says Mirabile of the once-popular cooking program. “So I’m 18 years old, and Linda Davis of Wolferman’s is asking me to give a cooking class. I was stunned.”
Mirabile, with his father hovering close by, made a Caesar salad and veal lemonato. His mother had sent along sixty of her famous cream puffs for dessert.
“In those days,” Mirabile says, “people taking a cooking class just got a tiny taste of everything you made. But my dad said, ‘You gotta feed these people!’ So everybody got a fabulous meal, and my career path was set.”
Mirabile remembers his father was “over the moon when I was invited to James Beard House in New York City to give a cooking class.”
“My dad said, ‘Everybody knows we’re from Kansas City, but you gotta hit these people with something other than steak and barbeque.’ So I did scampi alla livornese—by the way, I will never give out that recipe,” Mirabile says with a grin. “And I created my lobster cappuccino on the spot when the cappuccino machine wouldn’t do foam. I poured lobster bisque into all the cappuccino cups and popped a dollop of whipped cream on top. Sweet and savory!”
In 1997, the Mirabile family moved their restaurant to the Watts Mill Shopping Center, bringing the light fixtures, mirrors, fireplace mantle and artwork to the new location. Mirabile’s father died in 1998. However, Mirabile continues the tradition of preserving authentic Italian cuisine. He’s given over 2,000 cooking classes there since 1985. “You come, you watch me cook a four-course meal, and I provide the recipes. Once a month on Saturdays, we take over the whole dining room.”
Some of the inspiration for his radio show and his cooking classes comes from the trips he takes every year to Italy.
“I take 18 to 20 people with me and we explore parts of Italy that are pretty unknown,” Mirabile says. “We went to Certaldo, a city in Tuscany, and learned how to make onion soup with the famous Certaldo red onions. Most people think it’s French onion soup, not Italian, but that’s just because Catherine de’ Medici took her chefs and their recipes with her when she married the King of France.”
Occasionally, Mirabile likes to tweak the menu at Jasper’s after an inspiring meal in Italy. “I can never change the traditional menu here,” Mirabile says. “Paul Rudd wants his chicken parmesan. But I can add a new twist here and there.”
Mirabile loves the fact that the family restaurant tradition is continuing. “My brother Leo, my nephews and their sons are all part of the business,” he says. “Every day, one of us is in the restaurant. We like to say, ‘Mirabile in the house!’ We’re so lucky.
“You know what restaurant, or ‘ristorante,’ means in Italian?” Mirabile continues. “It means to restore. To restore people through the radio show, the restaurant, the cookbook and the cooking classes. That’s our job.”