Ones to Watch: Food and drink pros with promise

A recipe for success? Eh, these people don’t need one. Introducing three fresh chefs, two sprung farmers, a cool brewer, a goddess of wine and a mixologist with intoxicating skill. All of them have time and talent on their side. We can’t wait.

Why to watch him:
He’s a mini Gerard Craft.

Adam Altnether is young enough to think he’s old. Kitchen mates at Benton Park’s Niche Restaurant call the 23-year-old “Mini.” The precocious cook from South County (he entered the Culinary Institute of America at 17) couldn’t recall the origin of his nickname and quickly ran out of theories. “I don’t know if it meant mini Gerard or mini … ” In about a year’s time, he went from arranging produce for Niche executive chef Gerard Craft to acting as the James Beard finalist’s sous chef. Altnether was all of 21. His culinary bond with Craft cemented over watermelon foam – that detail he remembered. Currently, his workdays last between 16 and 20 hours. “If you analyze it, it’s miserable,” he said with an uncomplaining grin. He also noted another endurable downside to his momentum-blessed career. “One thing I got tired of hearing – it doesn’t bother me anymore – is that I’m Gerard’s favorite.” Well, is he Craft’s favorite? “You’ll have to talk to chef about that.”

Why to watch him:
Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients.

The otherwise unpretentious Jon Olson self-identifies as a food snob. “I only like pretty cauliflower,” he told a vendor at Land of Goshen Community Market in Edwardsville. Zigzagging between stands, Olson handpicked fresh miscellany including apricots, field mix and chiogga beets. “We’ve been juicing beets to make a beet risotto,” said Olson, who works under chef Kevin Willmann at Erato on Main. In late May, Olson returned to the ingredient-driven restaurant after taking eight months off to stage and work at Otom in Chicago and Rainbow Lodge in Houston. Working with cutting-edge techniques made him realize that superior ingredients are where it’s at – and will always be. Before making his rounds at the Goshen market, Olson had also stopped by a few farm stands. At one, he triumphantly discovered a source for figs, fresh supplies of which prove hard to find. If everything goes as planned, Olson will never wield a can opener again. “I guess I’m snobbish like that.”

Why to watch her:
She can pair wine with anything.

Angela Ortmann is part educator, part party host and 100 percent STLwinegirl. Earlier this year, the certified sommelier took the plunge into self-employment, building an all-occasion business around food, wine and savoir-vivre. “Why not do a wine tasting with your pedicure?” said Ortmann, who blossomed into a hospitality professional during a four-year stint in San Francisco. And since you’re making an afternoon of it, why not let Ortmann cook, say, a three-course meal? The fact that Ortmann doesn’t have a bottle inventory enables her to organize each dinner party, art opening, corporate lunch or – who’s in? – spa session around a fresh cache of wines. She likes what you like. “The first thing I always tell people is that wine is subjective.” That said, she might convert you. “My mother used to only drink Boone’s Farm with ice. Now she complains it’s too sweet and doesn’t have any body and wants a glass of Pinot Noir at room temperature.”

Why to watch him:
He’s bringing bologna back.

Pâté, coppa, pancetta and – if Cory Shupe has his druthers – bologna. As chef de cuisine at Five Bistro, which recently relocated from The Grove to The Hill, Shupe cooks the gamut of haute cuisine. Yet his culinary obsession is meat. “Tony always wanted to do charcuterie here, and I kind of took it on as my own project,” Shupe said, referring to his boss and mentor Anthony Devoti. Shupe is especially alert to the nuances of pork. “It has different flavor profiles and textures depending on whether it’s the shoulder, the head, the loin – there’s nothing better than a pig.” Currently, Shupe is doting on a bone-in prosciutto. “I don’t know how it will turn out – it’s just an experiment.” He also has meaty plans for Five’s casual sibling Newstead Tower Public House. “I want to do bologna, all-beef hot dogs and pastrami for the pub. I think people could have fun with it.”

Why to watch him:
Craft beers are his new line of work.

Thanks, recession. After a round of layoffs left Augie Altenbaumer jobless last year, the award-winning homebrewer turned beer into a full-time career. While working as a do-it man at The Schlafly Tap Room (where he still moonlights), Altenbaumer upped his brewing credentials through an online course offered by the Siebel Institute of Technology. Now he’s head brewer at The Stable brewpub in Benton Park. Altenbaumer the amateur brewed ales. At The Stable, he’s concentrating on German-style lagers. His petite fleet of tanks includes one for storage that’s striped with masking tape and marked with hand-written gallon lines. “We’ll probably put something more permanent up there, but that got us going,” he said. The Stable’s list of house brews is currently a quick read: helles, Märzen. Look for zoigl, an obscure, malty German brew, to start flowing later in the year. Thanks again, recession.

Why to watch them:
They have room to grow.

There’s something new under the sun at Moder Valley Nursery: food. Over the last year, brothers Jeff (left) and Greg Parkinson have started using organic practices to cultivate around a dozen varieties of fruits and vegetables including watercress. Previously, the Parkinsons devoted their 80-acre operation in Byrnes Mill, Mo., to herbs and landscape plants. Now they grow it all – not to mention more and more. “We’ve added a greenhouse every year for the last five years,” said Greg Parkinson. “That means we can grow tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables during the winter.” Moder Valley, which is part of a 600-acre sprawl owned by the Parkinsons’ relatives, debuted at the Maplewood Farmers’ Market in January and has continued to set up its stand through the growing season. The Parkinsons also sell at the market in Byrnes Mill. What’s next? Higher volumes of blackberries and raspberries along with an inaugural harvest of blueberries.

Why to watch him:
His retro cocktails are your future.

Three years ago, T.J. Vytlacil didn’t know the recipe for a Negroni. Now the debonair barkeep and consultant devises classic-style cocktails of his own. Thanks to mentor Ted Kilgore, a local mixologist of national relevance, some of Vytlacil’s creations have landed in editions of high-profile handbooks Food & Wine Cocktails and Mr. Boston: Official Bartender’s Guide. Of course, not every drink has been a dandy. Take, for instance, The Apothecary, a heady, medicinal blend of a dozen ingredients. “It was … interesting,” Vytlacil said. Now his ingredient lists max out at six. “It gets to the point where the flavors start to cancel each other out.” Always thirsty for more, Vytlacil has been working with Kilgore on opening a private cocktail club where he will serve St. Louis, among many other fineries, a mean Negroni – equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth.