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Nov 01, 2014
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Extra Sauce

Extra Sauce: Companion’s Josh Allen enters bread battle to compete in World Cup of Baking

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Every four years, the world goes wild for international competition. Participants train endlessly, all vying for the chance to represent their countries on the grandest of stages. No, we’re not talking about the Olympics or the World Cup. We’re talking about a more delicious and mouthwatering sport: the World Cup of Baking, or the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.

The top three bakers from each country’s team will gather in Paris in March 2016 to be judged on bread, Viennese pastries, a savory sandwich presentation and an artistic piece. But before they go head-to-head in international competition, they have to make their national team. St. Louis’ own Josh Allen, owner of Companion, is one of 15 bakers fighting for a coveted spot tomorrow and Friday, Oct. 23 and 24, at the next round of competition in Providence, Rhode Island. If selected, Allen will be the first St. Louis baker to compete in the World Cup.

Since August, Allen has spent nearly every Friday at the Ladue Companion Cafe from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., elbow-deep in dough, testing new recipes and learning along the way. We popped by one of his final practice sessions to get the inside look at how a baker prepares for the tryout of a lifetime.

Allen is required to present five types of bread: a traditional and decorative baguette, a sourdough-based option, a nutritional loaf, and two freestyle breads of his creation. All five must be completed in eight hours and match precise weight and shape requirements.




Since the judges will taste the bread straight from the oven, Allen has changed his usual methods, which focus on preparing bread consumed 12 hours later. “(I) found that the amount of thyme or rosemary has to be cut way back because it’s so floral initially,” Allen said.

Allen wanted to create breads that stand alone, almost as a meal. Each bite should be a sensory overload, he explained.




The nutritional bread (pictured below), which contains more than 50 percent whole-grain flour, has the comforting aroma of chamomile dust. Mixed throughout the dough are quinoa and wild rice, as well as sweet-tart, crunchy pomegranate seeds.




The classic baguette (below) is Allen’s favorite.




Allen elevated the average sourdough (below) by using semolina flour studded with fennel and sesame seeds and brown butter to gild the lily.




The first freestyle bread (below, left) is an ode to fall: chunks of apple and toasted walnut are folded into a thyme- and apple cider-infused rye dough topped with barley for crunch. He kicks up the heat with his second freestyle bread (below, right): an airy polenta bread with briny green olives, aromatic rosemary, bright orange zest, and a zip of red pepper.




Allen expects to hear the results of this round in two weeks or so. If he succeeds, he will move to the final round of competition in March 2015, when the top three compete again to earn the coveted bread baker slot on the three-person team. “I’m as ready to go as I can be,” Allen said the day before competition. “There’s no telling what will resonate with the judges … I’m very excited about it. It’s been a great experience, but it’s been enough work that you want to do well.”

Spencer Perinkoff blogs at Whiskey and Soba

-story and photos by Spencer Pernikoff

Extra Sauce: Lia Weber’s Lemon Meringue Tart

Friday, October 10th, 2014


{From left, Jilly’s Cupcake Bar & Cafe’s Dana Holland, The Sweet Divine’s Jason and Jenna Siebert, Sauce executive editor Ligaya Figueras, Made. by Lia’s Lia Weber, River City Casino’s Stephen Schubert and Jilly’s Casey Schiller}


During the photo shoot for the October 2014 letter from the editor, Sauce executive editor took cover as the crew of award-winning St. Louis pastry chefs turned their cake into a fierce – but friendly – food fight. Among those pastry chefs was Lia Weber, who recently won TLC’s Next Great Baker along with Wedding Wonderland’s Al Watson. Weber, who launched her own specialty dessert company Made. by Lia, gave us the recipe for her Lemon Meringue Tart, a dessert that prompted high praise from Next Great Baker judges and cravings here at home.





Lemon Meringue Tart
Courtesy of Made. by Lia’s Lia Weber
Makes 12 4-inch tarts or 2 8-inch tarts

2 2/3 cups pastry flour
1 cup plus 3½ Tbsp. powdered sugar, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
Half a vanilla bean
5 eggs, divided
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
1¾ cup plus 2¼ Tbsp. granulated sugar
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
3 Tbsp. water

Special equipment: candy/deep fry thermometer

• In a large mixing bowl, sift together the pastry flour and ¼ cup plus 2½ tablespoons powdered sugar. Set aside.
• In a the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 1 cup butter on medium speed until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes, then add the remaining ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Split the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds into the bowl and beat them into the butter-sugar mixture on medium speed. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture and 1 egg until the ingredients are just combined, about 1 minute. Do not over mix.
• Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead a few times to bring it together. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap it tightly in plastic and refrigerate 30 minutes until chilled.
• Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath. Fill a medium saucepot with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the lemon zest and juice, ¾ cup plus 2¼ tablespoons granulated sugar and the remaining 4 eggs in a large metal mixing bowl. Place the bowl over the simmer water to create a double boiler and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 170 degrees, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining 6 tablespoons softened butter. Place the bowl in the ice water bath until cool, then refrigerate until needed.
• Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll out the tart dough onto a lightly floured surface to ¼-inch thickness. Four 4-inch tarts, cut out 12 5- to 6-inch circles or for 8-inch tarts, cut out 2 9- to 10-inch circles. Gently press the rounds into the tart pans and refrigerate 5 minutes.
• Bake the tart shells about 10 minutes until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.
• Meanwhile, place the egg whites and a pinch of granulated sugar into a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-low speed until slightly frothy, 3 to 5 minutes.
• In a medium saucepan, mix together slightly less than 1 cup granulated sugar, the corn syrup and water over medium-low heat. Bring the sugar mixture to 248 degrees, then remove from heat. With the mixer on medium-low speed, carefully pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites. When all the syrup is added, whip the egg whites on medium-high until the meringue is cool and stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes.
• To assemble the tarts, gently remove the shells from the tart pans. Divide the chilled lemon curd evenly between the tart shells, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Place the meringue in a pastry bag and pipe it on top of the tarts or gently spread the meringue on top of the tarts with a rubber spatula for a more rustic look. The tarts can be eaten as is, or brulee the meringue with a pastry torch or under a broiler about 1 minute until golden.

-letter from the editor photo by Jonathan Gayman

Extra Sauce: Rex Hale’s Yellow Curry Paste and Roti

Monday, October 6th, 2014



Local chefs showed us how to add extra crunch to our favorite dishes this month with crispy grains like quinoa, amaranth, kamut and more. The Restaurant at The Cheshire‘s chef Rex Hale shared his recipe for Squash Curry with Crispy Quinoa in print, and if you really want to go the extra mile, try your hand at Hale’s own curry paste and roti, too.

Yellow Curry Paste
Courtesy of The Restaurant at The Cheshire’s Rex Hale
Makes 2 cups

4 Tbsp. fresh turmeric root*, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled, trimmed and quartered
3 Tbsp. chopped ginger root
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander root or cilantro stems
3 Tbsp. chopped garlic
3 Tbsp. sliced lemongrass
2 to 3 Tbsp. fresh Scotch bonnet chiles, chopped and seeded (or habanero, bird’s eye or serrano peppers)
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
3 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. course ground black peppercorns
2 tsp. sea salt
½ cup vegetable oil

• Add chopped turmeric root, onion, ginger, coriander roots, garlic and lemon grass to a blender. Blend to a rough, dry consistency.
• Add the chiles and lime juice to the blender and puree. Add in coriander, cumin, peppercorns and salt and blend again.
• Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over low heat. Fry the paste, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until fragrant. Let cool. Curry paste will keep, refrigerated, up to 1 month.

*Fresh tumeric root is available at most international grocery stores.

Courtesy of The Restaurant at The Cheshire’s Rex Hale
8 rotis

8 oz. whole-wheat flour
8 oz. quinoa flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
5 oz. cold butter, diced
4 oz. cold water
About ½ cup olive oil, divided

• In a large bowl, sift together the whole-wheat flour, quinoa flour, baking powder and salt. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Slowly add the water and mix together with your hands to form a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface 2 or 3 minutes, then place it in a bowl, cover with a towel and let it rest 30 minutes.
• Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead again for 2 to 3 minutes. Divide the dough in 8 equal portions and roll into balls. Flour the work surface and a rolling pin and roll out a ball into a disc as thin as a tortilla. Stack the rotis, flouring well between each so they do not stick together.
• In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil and griddle the rotis 1 to 2 minutes, until the underside is slightly brown. Flip, brushing the pan with oil between each side, and cook another 1 to 2 minutes, until the surface bubbles up and browns slightly. Repeat with the remaining roti discs. Cover the cooked rotis with a towel while cooking the next one. Serve immediately. Rotis will keep, refrigerated, for up to 24 hours.


-photo by Carmen Troesser

Extra Sauce: Sauce Pumpkin Beer Hunt Instagram Contest

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014



It’s the season for bonfires, cable-knit sweaters and for die-hard devotees, that greatest of St. Louis beer traditions: pumpkin beer. With more than 15 area brews to choose from, you’ve got your pick of the pumpkin patch.

Prove your love for pumpkin beer this month during our Sauce Pumpkin Beer Hunt Instagram Contest. Here’s how it works:

1. Follow @SauceMag on Instagram.

2. Work your way through our Sauce Pumpkin Beer Hunt Check List (click here for a printable version) and get drinking! Each time you enjoy a pumpkin beer from the list, take a photo of you with your brew and tell us what you’re drinking and where on Instagram. Tag @SauceMag use the #SaucePumpkinBeerHunt hashtag so we know you checked another off your list.

3. When you’ve finished your last beer, tell us in your final post. The first Sauce follower to correctly complete the Sauce Pumpkin Beer Hunt challenge by Friday, Oct. 31 at noon receives a $100 gift card to Craft Beer Cellar.

Must be 21 or older to participate and to claim the prize.


Extra Sauce: Homemade Amaretto

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014



In August, Dan and Anne Marie Lodholz, the husband and wife duo behind The Weekend Project, showed you how to use every last bit of your peaches and cherries, all the way down to the pits. Today, they’re sharing a recipe for one more boozy way to get the most from your end-of-summer stone fruits: amaretto.

In addition to macerating the lovely floral and herbal notes of fruit and spices with vodka and brandy, the Lodholzes also create a double simple syrup and a caramel syrup separately. This method allows drinkers to sweeten their amaretto exactly to their tastes.

Need a refresher on how to crack open those peach pits to get at the seeds? Click here and follow the instructions in the Peach Pit Tincture recipe for steeping, roasting and cracking those bad boys open.

Makes about 2 quarts

5 cups sugar, divided
3½ cups plus 2 Tbsp. water, divided
4½ cups vodka
1½ cups brandy
½ cup roasted peach seeds
½ cup peach pits pieces (remains of broken pits from removing seeds)
3/8 cup chopped raw almonds
2 Tbsp. anise seed
2 Tbsp. fennel seed
½ cup cherries, pitted and chopped
½ cup peach slices and scraps
½ cup apricot chunks
4 whole cloves
1 Tbsp. mint leaves
2 allspice berries or ¼ tsp. ground allspice
Almond extract

• To make the double simple syrup, bring 1½ cups water to a boil in a heavy saucepan and slowly whisk in 3 cups sugar until it is dissolved. Once the liquid is completely clear, remove from heat and let cool. Store the simple syrup, covered, in the refrigerator up to 6 weeks.
• To make the caramel simple syrup, bring 2 cups water to just below a boil in pot over high heat. Meanwhile, pour 2 cups sugar and 2 tablespoons water into a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Gently swirl the saucepan until the water is incorporated into the sugar and it begins to turn an almond color, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in the almost-boiling water until well incorporated (Use caution, as the mixture will steam.). Remove from heat, pour into a container with a lid and let cool. Store the caramel simple syrup, covered, in the refrigerator 4 to 6 weeks.
• To make the amaretto, pour the vodka, brandy, peach seeds, peach pit pieces, almonds, anise seed, fennel seed, cherries, peach slices and scraps, apricot chunks, cloves, mint and allspice into a large pitcher. Mix and then divide the mixture evenly between 2 quart-sized mason jars. Seal and shake.
• Store the jars in a cabinet for 4 weeks, shaking every couple days to agitate the ingredients. After 3 weeks, open the jars and smash the fruit with a wooden spoon. Seal again and place back in the cabinet. Let the jars rest the last 4 to 5 days of maceration so the ingredients can settle.
• Line a fine mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth and pour the liqueur through the strainer into a large pitcher. Discard the solids.
• To bottle, mix 1 cup amaretto liqueur with ½ cup double simple syrup, ¼ cup caramel syrup and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Pour into clean mason jars and serve with additional syrup.

 -photo by Michelle Volansky

Extra Sauce: Redefining pie a la mode with ice cream pies

Monday, August 25th, 2014


{I Scream Cakes owner Kerry Soraci}


I Scream Cakes owner Kerry Soraci is well known for imaginative ice cream cakes crafted in her brightly colored Cherokee Street shop. However, she’s recently gotten into the pie game, creating ice cream pies with a rotating cast of traditional and off-the-wall ice cream flavors, ganaches and toppings (almost all of which are gluten-free). Orange-habenero ice cream hiding a caramel-white chocolate ganache topped with chocolate-covered pralines, anyone?

Since August is all about pies here at Sauce, we asked Soraci to give us the scoop on her ice cream pies and share a recipe straight from I Scream Cakes’ kitchens.

Why did you decide to make ice cream pies in addition to your cakes?
I grew up working at Baskin-Robbins when I was a kid, and they had ice cream pies. I thought they were a nice option because it can be a little cheaper than a cake. It’s also more of a cookie than it is a cake, so even though they’re similar, they’re completely different.

What is the best crust for an ice cream pie?
I think it depends on the kind of ice cream and also personal preference. I do like the crushed up chocolate cookie crust, but we haven’t used it yet because of the gluten-free concerns. I really love our almond cookie crust. It’s nice and soft, it’s easy to make gluten-free and it … enhances a lot of our flavors.

Why cookies?
The cookie, as long as it doesn’t get baked too long, stays nice, soft and chewy when it’s frozen. It’s also a matter of balancing all the ice cream time and the baking time. We use (next-door neighbor) Black Bear Bakery’s oven, so we don’t bake a lot. It’s more focus on the ice cream, so it’s easier … to use the cookies as the pie crusts.

Have you ever made a pretzel crust?
No … now that you say that, it’s a really good idea!

What flavors of ice cream pie do you offer?
Right now, our seasonal pie is the Italian almond cookie crust with a layer of lavender-passion fruit swirl and blueberry cheesecake ice cream with a cream cheese icing. (But) I’m always making something different.

What do you top your pies with?
Either a chocolate ganache or a white chocolate ganache. We use Kakao’s burnt caramel sauce … for a caramel ganache. Cream cheese icing, maybe some fruits.

Describe how you make an ice cream pie.
We soften (our ice cream), spread it, and pretty much throw it in the freezer. After an hour or two, after it’s set, then we put a topping on it. The topping not only serves as an extra flavor and extra element, but it also is a good sealer so the ice cream isn’t exposed to air, so it stays fresher and doesn’t get freezer burn. Especially the ganaches – they kind of act like a magic shell.

Any tips for making an ice cream pie at home?
I like the crust to be frozen. I let (the ice cream) sit no more than five minutes to get it soft, then I squish it and press it into the corners so it’s all in there and smooth it out. But you don’t want it to get too melted because melted ice cream, when it refreezes, is icy and not a very good texture. You just want it to be soft enough to spread, smooth it out, and put it in the freezer.

I want the crust to be as close to the temperature of the ice cream as possible so you don’t get that icy layer of (refrozen) melted ice cream at the bottom. Then I do freeze the ice cream for an hour or two before putting the topping on for the same exact reason … The ice cream does need to be cold, so when the ganache, which is slightly warmer than room temperature hits, it … almost immediately hardens. That hardening will then also make the ganache stick to the ice cream so that it can be spread.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, can you make an ice cream pie with store-bought ice cream?
Absolutely. (Just use) the ones with the (purest), natural ingredients.

Any other helpful advice for home cooks?
Just play around! If you’re a little nervous at first, start out with everything store-bought. After that, bake your own cookies and make your own cookie crust … Just let the chewy cookies sit out, so they dry out and put them in a food processor with a little bit of melted butter. You can press that into the bottom of a pie pan and then let that freeze.

So do you prefer ice cream pie to regular pie?
No … I love pie, period. I really love strawberry-rhubarb pie; I love fruit pies.

And would you eat that a la mode?
Hell, yeah!


Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie
Courtesy of I Scream Cakes’ Kerry Soraci
Makes 2 9-inch pies

For the ice cream:
3 eggs
¾ cups sugar
1¾ cups whole milk
2¼ cups cream
3 oz. 100-percent cacao baking chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the Italian almond cookie crust:
2¾ cups raw almonds
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. gluten-free or regular cake flour
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup egg whites (3 reserved egg whites plus 1 more)
½ Tbsp. almond extract

For the caramel-white chocolate ganache:
¼ cup cream
4 oz. high-quality white chocolate*, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
1/3 cup room-temperature caramel sauce
Coarse sea salt to finish

Chocolate Ice Cream
• Separate the eggs, reserving the whites for the cookie crust. Use a stand mixer to beat the yolks on high speed until pale, about 2 minutes. With the stand mixer running, beat in the sugar. Turn off the mixer and stir in the milk and cream.
• Pour the custard mixture into a large saucepot and warm over medium heat, stirring until it reaches 185 degrees. The custard should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
• Add the chocolate, cocoa powder and vanilla to the warm custard and let it sit to melt slightly. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours.
• Pour the chilled custard into the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1½ quarts. Ice cream can be made 1 day ahead.

Italian Almond Cookie Crust
• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
• In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds and sugar together until roughly ground. Pour the almond mixture into a large mixing bowl and stir in flour and salt. Set aside.
• In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites and almond extract on high speed into soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Scrape the whipped egg whites into the nuts and stir gently to incorporate.
• Divide the mixture evenly between 2 9-inch pie pans. Bake about 15 minutes until the cookie is just golden. Let cool to room temperature, then freeze until ready for use.

Caramel-White Chocolate Ganache
• In a small saucepan, bring the cream to just below a boil over medium-high heat.
• In a small mixing bowl, pour the hot cream over the white chocolate. Add the butter and let it melt. Stir until the mixture is smooth, then stir in the caramel sauce. Let cool.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Pie
• To assemble the ice cream pies, remove the ice cream from the freezer and let it soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Divide it evenly between the 2 frozen crusts, pressing it into the corners and smoothing the top with a spatula. Freeze 1 hour.
• If the ganache has hardened, microwave it on low in 10 to 20 seconds intervals, stirring until it is viscous. Divide the ganache evenly atop the 2 pies to cover the ice cream completely, then sprinkle with sea salt and freeze until the ganache has hardened. Let thaw about 10 minutes before serving.

*Look for white chocolate that contains cocoa butter, not palm oil. 

-photos by Jennifer Mozier

Extra Sauce: Pie Movie Moments

Monday, August 4th, 2014

This month, we’re celebrating all things pie, and that includes our favorite on-screen pie moments. Whether these classic scenes set our mouths watering or have us covering our eyes in disgust, these classic pie movie moments stick with us long after the credits have rolled.

Waitress (2007)
The opening credits alone are enough to start your mouth watering as Jenna, a troubled virtuoso piemaker, makes apple, chocolate cream, peach and a variety of others.

The Help (2011)
The best scene revolves around a “special” pie Minny prepares just for her racist boss. The kind of pie that would win number two at a competition, if you catch our drift.


Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)
In this short-lived dramedy, shy piemaker Ned bakes to cope with the stress of holding the power of life and death in his hands, which he uses to reawaken his childhood love.


Stand By Me (1986)
We won’t soon forget the campfire story about Davie Hogan, an overweight boy who gets revenge on his bullies in The Great Tri-County Pie Eat. Not the most appetizing pie scene, but still extremely satisfying.


Blazing Saddles (1974)
A climatic, chaotic, fourth-wall breaking battle with chorus boys, cowboys, and cream pie choreographed by Mel Brooks – classic.


American Pie (1999)
You will never look at apple pie the same way after Jason Biggs’ very close, very awkward encounter with the most American of desserts.


Where to Explore Next: Ballpark Village

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014



While the Cardinals have proven it doesn’t take a village to create a winning team, Ballpark Village at 601 Clark Ave., is certainly playing a great game. With five distinct venues at which to eat lunch and dinner (with more on the way), and even more places to grab a drink, this truly impressive space beckons for many visits to come.




In the middle of the 120,000-square-foot entertainment district, feast on a juicy Bacon Three Way Burger (pictured) at Fox Sports Midwest Live!, while you watch the ballgame on a 40-foot wide TV. If the weather cooperates, you might just get a tan when the glass atrium’s roof retracts.





The village has quite a few bars. (See the full listing here.) But when the temperature really heats up, nothing beats a margarita. Choose from the margarita menu at Tengo Sed, or take your poison straight with one of the bar’s nine tequilas.




At the Budweiser Brew House, find more food and a whole lot of beer (239 taps throughout). Between a swanky rooftop deck and a biergarten complete with fireplace, communal tables and Adirondack chairs, there are plenty of fun spaces to explore in this 26,000-square-foot venue.





We recommend washing down the Brew House’s fish and chips with a Goose Island Honker’s Ale or the chicken apple blue cheese salad paired with a Stella Artois Cidre. For a more fine-dining experience, check out Cardinals Nation. For quick eats, head to Tengo Hambre, or on the outside of the village, find Drunken Fish.



{Pictured from front: Starburst roll, White Tiger roll}

 -photos by Julie Cohen

Five Questions with Ben Edison: The extended interview

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

{Executive chef Ben Edison with his daughter Delaney}

As warm air moves in, the patio at DeMun Oyster Bar is sure to fill up fast. But if it’s been a while since you stopped by this Parisian-style bar, you’ll be surprised to find more than bivalves and bubbles. Here, new executive chef Ben Edison told us what to expect at Clayton’s hippest watering hole.

When did you take over the kitchen and what have been some of the big menu changes since then? Overall, we went from a small, very limited menu to a full seafood-restaurant menu, and we also have some meat dishes. It’s not just oysters, at all. Now we have eight entrees and it’s pretty extensive.

What are some of the items on the restaurant’s new late-winter/spring menu? We do a Dungeness crab ravioli on the new menu. We have a really nice lamb porterhouse. We have a salmon in Pernod tomato sauce. We have a Pear Wellington, which is a new dessert. Everything in it we make in-house, except the phyllo dough – you’d have to be a masochist to make that. It’s star-anise-braised pears wrapped in puff pastry and then topped with Gjetöst cheese, a Danish cheese that tastes like caramel. Then we add a scoop of triple-vanilla gelato on a pool of Calvados gastrique. I act as pastry chef, too, with my daughter (pictured). She’s 17. She does the chocolate torte. We collaborate. She’s been baking since she was 8. We started a brunch on the weekends, too, and we’re still open late. You can come in and get a full entree until 11 p.m., or midnight in the summer.

Do you find that many people are still afraid to try oysters around these parts? I would rather take my chances with a raw oyster than a Chinese buffet. With all the testing they do of the water and the oysters and the tracking and the info-gathering, getting sick from an oyster is incredibly rare. At DeMun, we’re getting oysters that were in the water in the morning in Seattle, and I’ve got them in the restaurant by 6 p.m. that night.

I love oysters, but I gather some diners’ objections may have to do with an “oozy” texture. Then I say just suck ‘em down real fast – don’t chew ‘em – and you’ll get the flavor of the ocean.

How often do you eat oysters? Everyday. I’ll usually eat at least a dozen a day. I prefer them raw with nothing on them. We fly our oysters in daily; we’re the only restaurant in St. Louis that does. I have a list of 40 different oysters, and sometimes I kind of forget exactly what one tastes like, or the flavor changes because of the water supply. I have to be able to point people in the right direction.

Is there really a great variation in the taste of different oysters? I hate to make it sound like something from the movie, Sideways. When it comes to oysters, with the hint of this and that and all the silly adjectives, people can get carried away. But the different oysters range from a strong bite or salinity in the front end to a mineral-y, clean finish. Some West Coast oysters have a crisp, cucumber-y finish, but then something like the Kumamoto oyster has a creamier finish. I usually tell people to get a couple or three or four different kinds to try.

How many oysters could you eat in one sitting? I think the most I’ve ever eaten was four or five-dozen, and those were Gulf oysters at a little oyster bar in the Gulf. My uncle and I sat down and finished off about 12 dozen between the two of us. I grew up on the coast, fishing with my father off the coast of Connecticut and spending time in Maryland. That shows in our crab cakes, which are barely held together.

Is it true what they say about oysters being an aphrodisiac? I guess you’d have to ask my girlfriend. (laughs) I like to think that it’s healthy for me. I don’t think there are any ill effects.

What do you like to drink at the end of a busy night? With Nate Selsor, who came from Monarch, as our bar manager, a lot of the time I can just give him a flavor profile and let him play. We have a drink called When All Else Fails that’s really nice. It has rum, Campari, yellow Chartreuse and lemon juice. He just started a brand new drink menu that I’m working my way through now.

What are some of the preparations for oysters you do at the restaurant? In addition to raw, we do ours grilled and fried and occasionally beer-batter fried. We also do a Virgin Bluepoint [oyster] topped with a pancetta béchamel, and then we take kale blanched in pepper water and fried in duck fat and put that on top, followed by cave-aged Gruyere, and then we broil it. That’s our most popular menu item. We call it our house-stuffed oyster.

What’s your favorite drink to enjoy with oysters? Champagne. We have some exotic Champagnes, called grower Champagnes, made by one guy who may have just two acres of grapes and does it all himself. The flavor profiles are just fantastic.

Have you by any chance studied with a sushi chef? I have done a stage with a classically trained Japanese chef. He was the corporate chef at P.F. Chang’s. He was Vietnamese-born and Japanese-trained. Working with him was where I learned almost all of my Asian preparations.

Have you ever eaten the dangerous puffer fish, fugu? I have not, but I certainly would.

Anthony Bourdain once wrote that diners shouldn’t order seafood on Sunday, because the last seafood delivery was Friday – your thoughts? I think that’s completely untrue. I get seafood in on Saturdays. My fish that comes in for Sundays is perfectly stored in coolers and checked. Maybe in the ‘80s that might have been true, but with the abundance of seafood purveyors in St. Louis, they’ll deliver at 5 p.m. on Saturday. People shouldn’t have qualms about eating seafood on Sunday. As far as seafood in the Midwest goes, when you develop a long relationship with seafood purveyors, you get very nice stuff. We get seafood from nine different sources.

Have you shopped at the huge Asian market in U. City, Seafood City? I own a house not far from there. I shop there once a week. The seafood section is fascinating to me. If I’m in the mood for some mussels and feel like cooking them up, I might pick some up from there. I just enjoy walking the aisles and looking at stuff and having no idea what something is and buying it and playing with it.

What do you like to cook at home? If I’ve got two days off in a row, I’ll cook on the second day, but for the most part, I don’t really cook at home a lot. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is look at a pot and pan. I sometimes just go with a frozen pizza and a beer. Other chefs are the same way. We actually eat instant ramen noodles.

Where did you cook before DeMun Oyster Bar? I was a corporate chef for a few years, and before that, I was the fine dining chef at Ameristar Casino. I ran 47 Port Street and Pearl’s Oyster Bar.

Cooking at a casino is a whole different ball game, with the emphasis on extreme customer service. It was a great, great experience. At 47 Port Street, we had people that were big VIPs, so we had deep pockets to create exotic things and do tasting menus. While it was one of the most demanding jobs I ever had, it was fantastic to be able to play with all the stuff we got to bring in. On a Saturday night, you might have a table of four high rollers and you need to throw out an eight-course wine-pairing dinner on the fly for them. When the owner of the entire corporation came into town, there would be like a 22-hour stretch where you made absolutely sure that all his meals came out perfectly.

How does it feel when the kitchen is humming and everything is coming out perfectly? It’s absolutely fantastic. I have a great staff here. My sous chef, Nick Puccio, is really, really strong. We have great cooks that have worked in good restaurants. When things are really rolling, it’s probably the best feeling in the world. It’s exactly why I do this job.

Do you allow music in the kitchen? Only during prep time in the day.

What cooking or food book, TV show or movie do you love? I really don’t watch any of the food shows. I think they’re so unrealistic and fake. My favorite movie about wine is Bottle Shock.

What was your favorite food growing up that your parents made? Stuffed peppers. My parents were big gardeners and we had a huge garden. When the end of the summer would come, my stepmom would spend the entire day making tomato sauce and stuffing them, and they were amazing. Then she would freeze some and we would eat them all winter long, too. When I go home, that’s one of the things she always makes. My mother used to make spaghetti on Sundays and that was great, too.

What food did you hate as a kid that you love now? Clams. Ironic, isn’t it? We would have the freshest clams when I was a kid; we grew up about 12 miles from the ocean. They would make them in a white-wine Alfredo, and I would just eat the noodles. I never realized how much I took seafood for granted.

740 DeMun Ave., Clayton, 314.725.0322, demunoysterbar.com

— photo by Ashley Gieseking

Move Over, Bitters: Homemade Orange Shrubs

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Acid plus sugar plus a flavoring agent like a fruit, herb or vegetable. That’s the basic formula for concocting a shrub – a sweet yet tart syrup that’s popping up in your martini glass (even if you don’t know it yet). Over the course of the last year, Cielo bar manager Cory Cuff has cornered the market on this trendy simple syrup, preparing shrubs of every flavor and color like cucumber-lime, raspberry-rose-thyme, even balsamic-fig. Stop by Cielo and you can taste Cuff’s shrubs in the Unusual Margarita and Stealing Alper’s Hooch, or try them as solo sippers in a shrub flight. Want to make homemade shrubs your new DIY project? Find the recipe below.

Cielo Restaurant & Bar, 999 N. Second St., St. Louis, 314.881.2105, cielostlouis.com

Orange Shrub
Courtesy of Cielo’s Cory Cuff
4 Cups

Juice and peel of 4 navel oranges
Juice and peel of 1 lime
3 cups Champagne vinegar
6 oz. sugar

• Combine the fruit juices, peels and vinegar in a sanitized plastic or glass container with a fitted lid. Cover. Let infuse for 4 days in a cool, dark location.
• Strain the mixture into a saucepan and add the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, and let boil for 10 minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn.
• Pour the contents into a cruet with a pouring spout or a clean glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator, where it will keep for 7 to 10 days.

Now that you’ve made your shrub, mix it into Keepin’ Up With the Joneses, a cocktail Cuff dubbed “kind of like a cosmo, but with vinegar.” Combine 2 ounces of vodka, 1 ounce of orange shrub and ½ ounce of cranberry juice in a Boston shaker, and shake vigorously for 15 to 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with an orange twist.

— photo by Carmen Troesser

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