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Feb 23, 2018
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Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Ones to Watch

Ones to Watch 2018: Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Sous Chefs, Vicia
Ages: 33
Why Watch Them: The best new restaurant in St. Louis couldn’t run without them.

To be the best, you’ve got to have direction. Aside from growing up in Illinois and working as Vicia sous chefs, that’s perhaps the biggest thing Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel have in common: a lodestar commitment to improving agriculture through their work with farmers as chefs. It’s why they’re both at Vicia now. “But also,” Schingel added and Seibold would agree, “I don’t like the idea of working at the second-best restaurant in St. Louis. I just don’t. I want to work at the best.”

The two have been chasing better food sourcing through some of the best restaurants in the country for most their careers. Seibold went from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro straight out of culinary school to Danny Meyer and Michael Anthony’s Gramercy Tavern to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. Asked about this laundry list of America’s culinary elite, the clean-cut chef matter-of-factly explained he thought Keller’s focus on technique would be a good introduction to fine dining, he was attracted to Anthony’s vegetable-centric philosophy, and he wanted to experience Chez Panisse’s relationships with farmers. Wouldn’t we all, though?

If it sounds like Seibold had to have plotted that precise course his entire life, that’s probably because he grew up in a restaurant family and always knew he wanted to be a chef. Schingel, equally intentional though perhaps less methodical, got into cooking because he was sick of eating Hot Pockets every day in college. Then he became obsessed.

After a sudden swerve into culinary school, he worked his way up the St. Louis food ladder to sous chef at Gerard Craft’s now-closed Niche. When Schingel later landed a stage position at In de Wulf in Belgium, his experience with farmers and foraging at the remote Michelin-starred restaurant sparked an increased interest in sourcing. That made his next gig at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns a dream job.

“It was the opportunity to take a graduate school mentality,” Schingel said. “[It was a place to] learn how sourcing products works, how to talk about farming practices and intelligent methods.”

It’s also where he met Vicia chef-owner Michael Gallina, then chef de cuisine at Blue Hill. “Alec is exactly what I’m looking for in someone to work close with – very intelligent, very hard-working, very meticulous,” Gallina said.

To succeed at a high-concept place like Vicia, you need to be what Gallina called an intelligent chef – not a “head-down cook” who just gets the work done, goes home and doesn’t think about it. “This isn’t a 9-to-5 job for Patrick and Alec. They take it home with them. They research. They read books. They’re constantly diving into what’s going to be next, trying to be ahead of the ballgame.”

Schingel is the first person in the kitchen each day; as daytime sous, he runs the lunch service and Vicia’s whole bread program. Seibold helps Gallina run dinner and handles most of the restaurant’s butchery. “He’s taking on a lot of ownership with the nighttime cooks,” Gallina said. “He’s also a very intelligent person. He’s got a lot of incredible ideas.”

Gallina also rhapsodized on both the sous chefs’ teaching abilities. But, most important to Schingel and Seibold, Gallina wants them to take more ownership of the menu and to be more involved in working with producers.

“I definitely couldn’t do it without them,” Gallina said. “This restaurant wouldn’t be half of what it is without the help of those two.”

After navigating a major restaurant opening (both came on months before Vicia’s first service), Schingel and Seibold leave us with only two questions about their next steps: when and where?

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Heather Hughes is managing editor at Sauce Magazine. 

Ones to Watch 2018: Eric Tirone

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Head Butcher and Sous Chef at Truffles Butchery
Age: 27
Why Watch Him: He was a born butcher.

What do you do if your kid tells you he likes cutting raw meat? Hide the knives? If you’re Eric Tirone’s family, you start buying whole chickens. Tirone’s older brother, Chris Tirone (a member of the Ones to Watch Class of 2011), convinced their parents to let them practice breaking down the animals. “My dad said it was a little creepy hearing a little kid say he liked cutting raw meat,” Eric said. “But it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

At 17, he was helping his big brother butcher whole lambs and fish at An American Place. “Eric shared the same interests I had: sports, cooking, hunting, fishing,” Chris explained. “When I got into cooking, he enjoyed it as well and continued to mess around in the kitchen. Even at home I wouldn’t let him skate by.”

To understand Eric Tirone, all you have to do is watch him break down a massive hog with the skill of a surgeon and finesse of a ninja. It’s that virtuosity that got him promoted to head butcher at New Orleans’ famous, swine-centric Cochon Restaurant in just one year. There, he was butchering at least four pigs a week. Now, at Truffles Butchery, he butchers about one a week and teaches classes.

Does Eric Tirone want his own place? “Oh my God, absolutely! It’s been my end goal my entire life,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t been doing all this for shits and giggles. I can’t see myself doing anything else!” And when that time comes, after “knocking out a few big-boy things” like his wedding next year, you can bet the Tirone brothers will be back, standing side-by-side in the kitchen.

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Michael Renner is Sauce’s longtime New & Notable critic. 

Ones to Watch 2018: Bryan Russo

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Chef de Cuisine, Público
Age: 27
Why Watch Him: His hands are in the fire, but his head is in the books.

You could say Bryan Russo’s career started at Taco Bell. He did, after all, snag a job at the fast-food chain with his bandmates in high school, leading him to ditch music and sign up for culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu.

Or you could say it started with his Italian grandma and her ungodly good biscuits. One bite and he swore off the canned stuff forever, a revelation that took him down the flour-dusted rabbit hole of sourdough trials and fermentation experiments he’s still winding down today.

But no matter where he started, now he’s here: running a James Beard Award-nominated kitchen. “Bryan came on before Público was even built out,” explained Público chef-owner Mike Randolph. “He started as a cook and really quickly worked himself up to a sous chef. When we shook up the kitchen about six months ago, it made so much sense to make Bryan chef de cuisine. He is responsible beyond his years. He’s eager to learn.”

More like hungry for it. Russo doesn’t believe in secrets, and he doesn’t think you should either. He wants to learn any way he can: with his head in a book, from the guy on the line or trolling bread forums in his spare time. “I went into [Público] not knowing a damn thing about Latin food,” Russo said. “It was, hey, I want those burnt tortillas in my mole. I want those ash-roasted carrots in this thing. It was a lot of learning; I couldn’t have done it without the other guys in the kitchen.”

And his education continues. At Público, he’s messing around with cooking bread in the ashes of the wood-burning fire. “Shove it in there, and in a minute or two you have this ugly looking thing,” he explained. “You knock the coal right off, and it’s got this really nice, caramel-y, tasty bread.” Every item on the menu has his fingerprints on it, most the delectable result of collaboration with Randolph – or “Coach,” as Russo calls him. On the side, he’s baking sourdough for Squatter’s Café, where they slather it with fresh ricotta and serve it simply with the season’s brightest bounty.

The only thing Russo knows about his future is that it will involve open fire, something with bread. When you never stop learning, just about anything is possible.

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Stacy Schultz is a longtime contributor to Sauce Magazine. 

Ones to Watch 2018: Hana Chung

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Line Cook, Vista Ramen
Age: 30
Why Watch Her: She’s cooking circles around all the dudes in town.

If the restaurant inside Hana Chung’s mind was a dinner party, you’d so want that invite. The table would be crowded with everyone from her Korean-born parents to her pizzaolo husband and the buddies she’s met inside the long list of local kitchens on her resume: folks from Byrd & Barrel and Juniper swapping stories with her current Vista Ramen kitchen mates.

The music would be loud and the guests would be louder; wafts from the kitchen would be salty, sweet and acidic. The food: “hardy, home-ish” Korean dishes her mom and grandma used to make her
back home. “Right now, food is kind of weird, almost segregated,” Chung said. “You have your really fancy food that only a small percentage of people in St. Louis can eat. I think there’s a market for good, local food that everyone can afford, and that’s my main goal.”

Despite her high-profile resume, Chung had one request when she began at Vista. “By choice, Hana kind of wanted to get back to just cooking. She’s a line cook here,” said Vista chef-owner Chris Bork. “That’s her position, but she’s a lot more than that. She will cook circles around a lot of the dudes that I’ve known. She’s just hardworking, and you could see instantly – Hana knows how this works.”

In an industry known for tempers that flare higher than kitchen fires, Chung has the rare gift of an easygoing attitude. “She was with us toward the end of Randolfi’s,” said Mike Randolph, chef-owner of the now-closed restaurant. “Those were some pretty hairy times. She kept us sane through really long hours and short staffs those last weeks. She would leave these little notes of encouragement around the stations for the cooks. She was a positive influence at a time when we really needed one.”

So, what’s next for Chung and her Korean street food spot dream? For now, Chung is learning more about her craft and spreading good vibes wherever she goes. “How can you not be happy when you’re in the kitchen dancing to Aretha and making food you like?” she asked. Preach.

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Stacy Schultz is a longtime contributor to Sauce Magazine. 

 

Ones to Watch 2018: Evy Swoboda

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Chef de cuisine, Pastaria
Age: 26
Why Watch Her: She’s the next big thing in the Niche Food Group empire.

Fresh-faced, 17-year-old Evy Swoboda arrived at The Lodge of Four Seasons at Lake of the Ozarks to accept a garde manger position on the word of a friend. There was just one problem: The chef had hired her, but human resources hadn’t.

Swoboda was undeterred. Armed with a resume boasting a two-year stint as Subway sandwich artist, she talked her way into the job and a career crash course.

“I didn’t even know how to cut a pineapple,” she said. “I just faked it until I made it, basically. Read a lot, pretended I knew a bit more than I did until I knew what I was doing.”

Confidence, dedication and a whole lot of practice eventually led her to the grill station at 44 Stone Public House in Columbia, Missouri, and then to Pastaria shortly after it opened in 2013. The eager line cook rocketed up the chain of command, landing at chef de cuisine under executive chef Ashley Shelton.

“She can read my mind,” Shelton said. “I can give her a look and she understands, ‘You need me on pizza.’ She understands, ‘That burned.’”

There’s no doubt Swoboda can cook. She creates daily pizza specials and recently took over the entire menu of the popular Clayton restaurant. However, it’s Swoboda’s deft leadership on the line that sets her apart.

“I can be a little more hammer, and she’s a little more honey,” Shelton said. “She has a way with the line cooks that is very friendly. … She can get her point across without having to yell or be stern.”

It’s a quality Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft has noticed, and the reason he wanted Swoboda to help open Pastaria’s Nashville location. “That’s one thing a lot of people overlook,” Craft said. “They might be really good cooks, but they might be terrible, terrible managers. I think she handles herself really well. She’s really well organized. She’s a really good teacher.”

Swoboda’s rapid ascent at Niche Food Group won’t stop if she has anything to say about it. “I want to continue helping open other Pastarias and hopefully get my own one day,” she said. “I definitely want one of the restaurants.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

 

Ones to Watch 2017: Jake Sciales of Farmhaus

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Head chef and baker, Farmhaus
Age: 29
Why watch him: On the ice or in the kitchen, he’s a competitor.

The greatest lesson Jake Sciales has learned in his four years baking bread is respect. “Bread doesn’t care how busy you are. It doesn’t care when you need it, how many reservations you have. It does its own thing and you have to adapt and react,” he explained.

Shortly after hiring Sciales, Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann had his friend Matt Herren, then owner of 222 Artisan Bakery in Edwardsville, teach the crew how to bake bread. It wasn’t long before Sciales was heading up Farmhaus’ bread program. “Two to three weeks after I started, it kind of got tossed on me,” Sciales said.

Sciales looks at restaurant work as a competition for the adrenaline to get though daily challenges. He accepted his new role of bread baker, on top of being chef, like the athlete he is. “I took it as a way to endear myself to the new crew I was joining,” Sciales said. “I wanted to take the responsibility and start contributing to the team.”

Sciales got his start washing dishes at Sky Hi in Columbia, Missouri, after college. He was initially attracted to a career in the restaurant industry for the same reason he played a lot of sports growing up, and still plays hockey every week. “A desk job isn’t a good fit for me,” he said. “Being active and having the rush of cooking, the pressure and intensity of it, drew me, and I ran with it.”

With bread baking, Sciales found a new awareness. “It was almost calming because I just followed the process; there was no cheating it, you just have to do it,” he said. “You have to work with it. It doesn’t work with you.”

Something is definitely working. Willmann insisted Sciales puts out some of the best bread in St. Louis. “He’s ambitious for sure, and reliable, with a magnet of a personality,” he said.

Sciales loves working with Homer, the 20-plus-year-old wild yeast mother used to make Farmhaus’ rustic country loaf, and is pretty into sourdough pretzels now. What’s next? “It jumps around,” he said. “Four, five months ago I was getting into focaccia.” Sciales’ mercurial interests fuel what breads Farmhaus serves, but one thing is clear: “Without Matt and Kevin, I probably wouldn’t be down this road right now.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Ones to Watch 2017: Troy Bedik of Civil Life Brewing Co.

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Brewer, Civil Life Brewing Co.
Age: 29
Why watch her: She does whatever she wants.

Before she became a professional brewer, Troy Bedik concocted a homebrew recipe so good, Steve Crider of 2nd Shift Brewing mass produced it. Now, after recently landing the highly competitive and coveted position of brewer at Civil Life, she’s already developed a Kölsch recipe owner Jake Haefner declared a favorite of the past year.

Considered one of the most passionate in the field by her peers, this won’t be the last time you hear about Bedik. But first, hear it in her words:

“I love getting my hands dirty – it’s my favorite part of what I do. I like being on my feet all day, moving around, getting to move heavy things. I like having a job where I’m physically crafting something. I can brew the beer, package the beer, put the beer on draft and then enjoy the beer. It’s the ultimate satisfaction.”

“The craft beer world can be a very intimidating environment for women. It’s gotten better, but you have to fight for people to take you seriously, to prove that you know what you’re talking about. It’s good to have a strong support group.”

“I always get the joke from people: ‘Oh, you’re a brewer – where’s your beard?’ Sometimes if I’m wearing a dress, I wonder if it automatically discredits me because I don’t look the part. I think people mean well by it, but you don’t have to look a certain way – like a 30-year-old bearded guy. There’s room for everybody.”

“One of my favorite moments while working at Civil Life was one day when I was wearing my big work boots, work shorts, a headlamp and safety glasses, and I walked into the bathroom and saw this little 5-year-old girl.

“She asked me, ‘Why are you dressed like that?’

“And I said, ‘I’m a brewer. I work over there.’

“Her eyes got wide and she said, ‘That’s so cool!’ Then she ran over and told her dad.

“I loved it because she saw that you can have a job that lets you get a little dirty – you can do whatever you want to do.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

Ones to Watch 2017: Sam Witherspoon of Sardella

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Executive sous chef, Sardella
Age: 27
Why watch him: He proves good guys can get ahead.

Sam Witherspoon’s resume reads like a cutthroat careerist’s: the New York Culinary Institute of America to Danny Meyer’s Maialino to Donald Link’s Cochon, then Gerard Craft’s Niche and now Sardella. The lineup may evoke a sense of cold-bloodedness, a ruthless master plan, but that impression would be wrong for the guy Sardella executive chef Nick Blue called his “softer side.”

“I’ve never really had a plan,” Witherspoon said. “I always just kind of go where I want to go and I figure it out when I get there.” He’s gotten where he is simply by aiming high, giving it a shot. He secured the job at Niche with a cold call – an effort that would seem laughable if it hadn’t worked. “I have the attitude of start at the top,” he said. “Because it’s easier to start there than it is to start down and try to move up.”

This strategy, of course, only works if you have the skills to support it. “He has a really playful sense of food … an ability to translate comfort food into modern food,” Craft said. Take, for example, Witherspoon’s recent special at Sardella: a pastrami-spiced brisket and squash agnolotti served with pickled and butter-braised cabbage. “It doesn’t taste like it’s just a riff [on a Reuben],” Craft said. “It is its own dish – something nuanced and unique.’”

But for Witherspoon, being a chef has as much to do with how you treat people as what you serve them. “It’s almost impossible not to smile when you see Sam. He boosts everybody’s mood,” Craft said. “He’s a very positive spirit in the kitchen. That’s totally separate from cooking ability, but almost more important sometimes.”

He learned this during his externship at Maialino, where it wasn’t just the high pressure or long hours that impressed him. “These guys were very serious about what they did, but they walked in every day, they shook your hand, asked you how you were doing,” Witherspoon said. “They really invested in you, and that’s something I’ve carried with me throughout my entire career.”

A focus on hospitality in and out of the kitchen may sound peripheral, but it’s something that sets Witherspoon apart. A lot of people with serious culinary talent don’t make it past sous. “To be a great leader, there’s a certain amount of positivity that has to be there for people to want to work for you,” Craft said. He was equally impressed by Witherspoon’s ability to interact with guests. “If you’re going to do your own thing, you’ve got to have it – or you better hire somebody who does.”

There’s no doubt Witherspoon will have a lot of people working for him someday. For now, aside from having his voice heard through more dishes on Sardella’s menu, his goal is simple: “I would love to be able to give Nick Blue a day off.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

 

 

Ones to Watch 2017: Alex Pille of Annie Gunn’s

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Sous chef, Annie Gunn’s
Age: 28
Why watch him: His gardening exploits are likely to land on your plate.

Annie Gunn’s sous chef Alex Pille grows the usual slate of Midwestern fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and peppers, but that’s where the similarities to your grandmother’s garden end.

“I love to try new things,” Pille said. “Amaranth is an ancient grain crop. It has a giant flowering head that can be dried and is kind of like quinoa.” He’s also grown sorghum, rice, saffron and zucca – one of the world’s largest gourds that can weigh up to 100 pounds.

He grows produce his boss, executive chef Lou Rook III, never knew existed and some stuff he has a hard time finding. “I’ve been working with farmers since 1989 and had never heard of these [lemon drop] chiles,” Rook said. “I was so excited about them and Alex goes, ‘Oh yeah, I grew those last year. They’re great.’”

“I research online, but with the more obscure things, it only goes so far,” said Pille. “That’s where the chef part comes in. I found out a lot of people use zucca as a filler in jams. I decided to make applesauce with it. It worked out great.”

The current beneficiaries of Pille’s harvest are his family, friends and sometimes diners at Annie Gunn’s. But that may change.

“Last year I had a variety of around 60 plants growing,” Pille said. “I kept expanding my garden and before I knew it, it was a quarter of an acre.” This spring he plans to plant at least one of the five acres he recently bought in De Soto. “Hopefully by the end of the year, I can have a greenhouse out there, too.”

For Pille, farm-to-table is not a marketing gimmick; being a better farmer makes him a better chef. “He’s farming the food to bring to the table,” Rook said. “He understands food, how to prepare different things, because of his farming background.”

Eventually, he’d like to have his own produce business, selling to area restaurants. “I could be in both realms. I can grow unique things and also offer methods and applications for these obscure ingredients.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

 

Ones to Watch 2017: Jen Epley of Vicia

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Assistant general manager, Vicia
Age: 31
Why watch her: She knows what you need before you do.

Jen Epley has her eye on you. Where did you sit, what did you order and what was your favorite dish? If you don’t like cilantro, you won’t see it – now or the next time you dine with her.

For Epley, successful service means everything appears effortless. Wine keys, pens, lighters and birthday candles are accounted for before the night begins. Guests are greeted warmly, treated with friendly respect and watched carefully from the moment they’re seated until the last glass of wine is consumed.

“You have to know something about them. They are there for that experience of connecting with the food, the servers, the beverages. They want to feel everything that you put into that restaurant,” Epley said. “You have to be part of it. … If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be there because that resonates with all the guests that walk in.”

This is something she’s learned from hospitality pros in some of the best restaurants in the city, starting at Five Bistro five years ago.

“She’s really one of the unsung heroes of service in St. Louis,” said advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov. He trained Epley on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern wine when they worked at Olio and Elaia. “She’s so technically sound that she can do everything better than most people on autopilot, and meanwhile … look around the room and anticipate what’s next.”

“So many people treat serving as ‘Same job, different apron,’” said Sardella general manager Chris Kelling, who worked with Epley at Niche. “She has goals to ascend in the industry and be amongst the best. That is something I’ve only recently seen in St. Louis, that people are taking hospitality as a career.”

It seems only natural that Epley’s next step is to help open Vicia under co-owner and general manager Tara Gallina, who was service captain at Blue Hill at Stone Barns – a restaurant lauded as much for service as culinary talent. Before a recent wine tasting meeting, Epley pulled out a tote bag filled with polished stemware and ever-present spiral-bound notebooks.

“When I write things down, it’s easier to remember than typing,” she explained, rifling through pages filled with impeccably written wine tasting notes and potential front-of-house hires. Epley loves the puzzle of it all, carefully sorting each detail into its proper column. “It’s a fun game of Tetris,” she said.

“She’s always two steps ahead, which is what you have to be, and seeing the big picture at all times,” Gallina said. “She really just gets it.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

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