Posted On: 01/01/2008
Juggling is Eric Brenner’s specialty. Brenner opened Moxy Contemporary Bistro in the Central West End four years ago while he was still executive chef at Chez Leon, the restaurant right next door. For a while, he acted as executive chef in both eateries. Recently, while still manning the kitchen at Moxy, he’s been acting as a consultant, helping other restaurateurs realize their own visions. “I find myself going into places like Chez Leon or Sub Zero or wherever, and I just kind of start talking about what would be great in there,” Brenner said. “Then I end up getting involved. Ultimately, that’s why all the projects come about, because I want to see everyone do better, and if I can help get them there, and help the whole city get there, then I feel like I’m contributing.”
You’ve recently partnered with Space LLC.
We’re calling it a strategic partnership, an alliance. What it does for [Tom Neimeier, the owner,] is now he can offer a restaurant the full package. He can design the space architecturally, and then I can look at their idea of food. People come to Space and they have an idea for a restaurant. We can help them find the space. I can help them develop the menu and design the kitchen. … We can design the entire space so it flows from dining room to kitchen under one whole theme.
When someone owns a restaurant, I can see why they’d need architects, but why would they reach out to a consulting chef?
There are a lot of people that would love to open their own restaurant. They might have the means, but they don’t necessarily have the experience. I can bring my experience to their project. Sub Zero, they had an idea. They saw this Burger Bar thing and they wanted to do it, but didn’t know how. So I developed the kitchen, developed the menu, hired the kitchen staff, trained the staff. I [was there] for the opening night, and I’ll stay on for as long as they want me, maybe [come in] once a month to look at their numbers and make sure profit margins are in line.
You’re like a business consultant.
Yeah. What it’s really doing is … [allowing me to] focus on Moxy because I don’t have to think about [other projects]. I was going to open a diner in The Loop. I wanted to open a fine-dining French restaurant. Downtown, I wanted to do something. Now I can just focus on getting other people to do it.
What is it that makes certain kitchen designs successful for a restaurant versus a residential kitchen?
Flow. You look at the space available. You look at the menu you want to try to pull off. You put the equipment in that’s needed for the menu. And then you have to make sure that the flow is there, that the kitchen staff is going to be able to execute what they need to do.
You have to think about how people are going to move when they’re slammed on a Saturday night.
As a chef, the reason I can help people design restaurants is that now I understand what this cook needs to execute this particular thing. And you try to make sure that one cook at that one station has everything he needs to execute his part of the menu.
Tell me about the menu you developed for Sub Zero Vodka Bar.
We’re calling it “new American burgers.” They have vodka, they have sushi; … we’re introducing signature burgers. We’ve tried to do things that are very St. Louis. We have a slinger burger that’s a burger with chili, a fried egg and some Cheddar. A lamb burger with hummus, cucumber, tomato and feta cheese. There’s a bison burger with barbecue [sauce], tobacco onions and cole slaw. There’s a surf and turf for people who really want to spend money. It’s Kobe beef with half a poached lobster tail.
Do you feel all these other projects diminish the amount of energy you can give to Moxy?
That’s been my most recent focus. Now that we’re going into our fifth year, [I want to] focus on the menu at Moxy, remind everyone what I can do as a chef. I’ve been a little distracted doing all the other projects. I thought I could have a piece of me everywhere, but now I really want to focus on doing Moxy. We’re going to be redoing the menu for 2008. … We’re going to keep the main items that everyone loves and then expand the menu to include some more French, more of my “style,” more upscale.
So where do you want to see the St. Louis restaurant scene in the next five to 10 years?
I would like to see St. Louis be more of a 24-hour dining scene. I would love to be able to finish work at 1:30 and go not just to a diner for eggs or fast food. I’d like to go to a nice, dimly lit, sexy-cool place that will serve great food after hours. I think every chef wants that. No. 2 would be, I think we have a good amount of variety, but just like St. Louis, it’s so spread out. I opened Moxy right next to two restaurants. Everyone thought I was crazy. But I think that’s what we need – more densely populated restaurant scenes.
Was your goal to be a restaurant consultant?
It’s so bizarre, because when I went to culinary school, they say, say your name and what you want to do. And everybody said, “My name’s Bob and I want to open a restaurant.” I thought for a minute and I said, “I want to be a creative director or a consultant for restaurants.” I didn’t really know what that meant or how I would get there. Now I’m getting there.
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