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Feb 24, 2018
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Extra Sauce: In case you missed it…

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

From the long-awaited announcement of  Qui Tran’s new ramen shop, to end-of-the-year chef shakeups, here’s everything that went down in the St. Louis food scene last week, in case you missed it…




1. Ready your chopsticks because Nudo, the ramen venture by Mai Lee’s Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco is a go at 11423 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur.

2. The new year will see a new chef de cuisine at Randolfi’s as Tommy “Salami” Andrew, most recently of Byrd & Barrell, joins the kitchen crew.




3. Jessie Gilroy, chef de cuisine at The Tavern in the Central West End, will join chef Kevin Nashan’s kitchen team in the new year. Her last day at The Tavern is Dec. 31.

4. Geisert Farms’ Todd and Katie Geisert are bringing the farm to Washington, Missouri and to St. Louis restaurants with Farm to You Market and Distribution Center in spring 2016.

5. Downtown St. Louis will see a new event space when Willow, the newest member of the Bailey family of restaurants opens in spring 2016.




6. Located in the short-lived Flying Rolls space, Midtown Sushi opened its doors on Monday, Dec. 21 at 3674 Forest Park Ave. Serving more than rolls and nigiri, Midtown Sushi offers Japanese cuisine ranging from traditional appetizers to ramen to curry.

7. Finding that retirement didn’t quite suit him, 10-year food service veteran Pierre Balentine plans to open Balentine’s Restaurant & Bar in the former Tripel space at 1801 Park Ave., in Lafayette Square.




8. Dan Bertarelli’s grandfather was basically the Steve Jobs of knife sharpening in St. Louis – he started an empire from his garage on Macklind Avenue in 1967. Today, Bertarelli Cutlery serves some of the same restaurants it did 40 years ago and now runs an addictive kitchen shop on The Hill.

9. After working as personal chefs to athletes for five years, co-owners Aaron and Ashley Lyons are bringing their health-focused cuisine to St. Louisans with Community Kitchen, their prepared meal delivery service.



Extra Sauce: Sauce Wine Bar Tour Instagram Contest

Monday, December 1st, 2014




The weather outside may be frightful, but we’re getting warm and cozy with a glass of something special at our favorite wine bars. This month, we shared our top 9 wine bars in St. Louis, and we want you to experience them all during our Sauce Wine Bar Tour Instagram Contest. Here’s how it works:

1. Follow @SauceMag on Instagram.

2. Work your way through our Sauce Wine Bar Tour Check List (click here for a printable version) and get drinking! Take a photo of you with a glass of your favorite wine and tell us where you’re drinking on Instagram. Tag @SauceMag use the #SauceWineBarTour hashtag so we know you checked another off your list.

3. When you’ve visited your last bar, tell us in your final post. The first Sauce follower to correctly complete the Sauce Wine Bar Tour challenge by Wednesday, Dec. 31 at noon receives a $100 gift card to Stars.


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

A Pancake Walk Through the CWE

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Three brunch spots near the intersection of Euclid and McPherson avenues in the Central West End are turning out unusual, stellar pancakes. While they’re all steps away from each other, they are miles apart in flavor. Here, the quickest route to first-rate flapjacks in the Central West End.



Start at Cucina Pazzo and order the Lemon Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes. Easily the best brunch dish on their menu, these pancakes are also the restaurant staff’s favorite. It’s not an unheard of flavor combination, but here, it rises to new heights with an Italian twist. A dollop of fluffy citrus zabaglione begins to melt once it hits the ricotta- and blueberry-studded hot cakes. Fresh blueberries and a modest drizzle of maple syrup finish the dish, but don’t be shy about adding the sea salt caramel butter served on the side. (If you somehow have extra, we recommend taking it to go.) If you order only one thing at brunch, it should be this.



Then, step next door for Cary McDowell’s dream-like pancakes at Gringo. They’re dense, moist and flecked with orange zest for a fresh, citrusy zing. McDowell serves them with a shower of powdered sugar and a little cup filled with cola syrup. This is a sensational short stack, and hands-down the most unique on our list.



Ready for dessert? Of course you are. Cross McPherson Avenue and walk down to Dressel’s Public House for Guinness & Chocolate Chip Pancakes. Spiked with the Irish brew for a sophisticated sweetness and speckled with a bittersweet chocolate, there’s no need for syrup to sweeten them further. (Although if you ask they do have fine, local syrup available.) A cloud of freshly whipped cream and a side of bacon crown this dessert posing as breakfast.

-Cucina Pazzo photo by Carmen Troesser

Still Can’t Quit the Fish?

Monday, October 7th, 2013



After reading about the allure of fly-fishing in Julie Cohen’s “Rite of the River”, wow your friends by preparing trout recipes from The Tavern Kitchen & Bar and Panorama. Still can’t quit the fish? Try these three fish finishing techniques inspired by some favorite trout dishes around town. And after that? Well, it’s time to go fishing.

1) Marinate a trout fillet with olive oil, toasted cracked fennel seed and thinly sliced oranges for 24 hours. Place fillet on a baking sheet and put in a 325 degree oven skin-side down. Bake for 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve on a plate brushed with almond butter.

– Inspired by chef Patrick Connolly’s red trout from Basso. For the exact recipe for this dish, including directions on how to make the accompanying green bean salad, click here.

Basso, 7036 Clayton Ave., Clayton, 314.932.7820, basso-stl.com 

2) Rub a trout fillet with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sear for 2 minutes on either side. Put the fillet on a baking sheet and top with sauteed vegetables (minced garlic, julienned sun-dried tomatoes, quartered artichoke hearts and sliced asparagus). Put in a 350 degree oven for 3 minutes. Finish with a splash of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.

– Inspired by chef Nathan Bennett’s grilled trout from Hendel’s Market Café & Piano Bar. For the exact recipe for this dish, click here.

Hendel’s Market Café & Piano Bar, 599 St. Denis St., Florissant, 314.837.2304, hendelsrestaurant.com 

3) Salt and pepper the inside of a clear-cut trout. Close the trout and dredge it in flour and then cook in a lightly oiled saute pan for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden. Top with a sauce of white wine, whole peppercorns, shallots, fish stock, butter, lemon juice, capers and dill.

– Inspired by chef Bryan Carr’s rainbow trout from Pomme Restaurant. For the exact recipe for this dish, click here.

Pomme Restaurant, 40 N. Central Ave., Clayton, 314.727.4141, pommerestaurants.com/restaurant 

-Photo by Greg Rannells





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

Extra Sauce: An interview with Andy Ayers – the extended version

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

For almost five years now, Andy Ayers has been the guy behind the guy. His relentless quest to deliver produce from local farmers to area chefs has made his small operation, Eat Here St. Louis, indispensable. These days, the former owner of Riddle’s Penultimate Cafe and Wine Bar can tell stories about rutabagas, kohlrabi and eggplant that are, well, ultimate.

Who are you sourcing produce for now? Today I was at Big Sky; I went to The Royale; I was at Local Harvest on Morgan Ford; I went to City Greens produce, which is a low-income farmers’ market; I was at Niche; and I was at Fresh Gatherings, the cafe at SLU. It’s a pretty typical day for this time of the year. In the summer, there’s [sic] a lot more stops. I would say I’m working in the neighborhood of 40 restaurants and 40 farms over the course of a year.

What’s your typical workday like? A fair number of my customers order a day in advance and then quite a few people call me in the evening when they close their kitchen, after I’m in bed, and I look at the email or text in the morning. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle every morning, to draw up a route that’s sensible. I get up at about 4:45 a.m. In the summer I’ll get up an hour earlier, even. You can get an awful lot done if you start early. You sleep a little bit later in the winter and get up earlier in the summer, and you work until you’re bone-tired in the summer. For 27 years I ran a restaurant and had the opposite schedule and went to bed at about 3 a.m.

Do you go to farms on both sides of the river? Yes, I go to both Missouri and Illinois. “Foodshed” is a word you can use like watershed. As far as our area foodshed goes, in many ways there’s agriculture closer to the city limits on the other side of the river than in the other three directions because of the sprawl away from the river on this side. There’s a high population of farm families near St. Louis in Illinois who’ve been growing for several generations. Frequently you’ll find the younger family members are interested in increasing their income. Grandpa and grandma have supported the extended family on the farm income, the middle-aged group doesn’t work for the farm anymore, and the new generation has rediscovered the idea of planting more and boosting sales. You don’t have to tell farmers twice if the market is growing – they’ve been watching the market dwindle for many years, and now it’s changing. If you buy it, they will come. If it sells out this year, they’ll plant more next year. That’s what I’m trying to encourage.

What I’m looking for is someone with excess product or production capacity who doesn’t see the market right away. Here’s an example. When I first got started, I was talking to an old bachelor farmer in JeffCo. He has a stall at Soulard. He told me he plants twice as much spinach as he thinks he’s going to sell because of weather and deer grazing on it. The big expense is cutting and washing it and bringing it to market. He was just plowing under his excess. I asked him to give me a chance to help sell his spinach, and I helped him have his best year.

This guy I get great veal from sells it on the Internet. I can help him market that. These are the kinds of situations I’m always looking for. My mission statement is twofold: I want to make it as easy for chefs to buy local foods as it is to get on the phone and buy imported stuff. The fact is that it’s never gonna be easy because of seasonality. There’s never gonna be local avocadoes here. But I want my service operation to be as good as the big guys. You tell me how many pounds of this and that, and I’ll have it there tomorrow. That helps get chefs more interested in local food, too. And the other mission is to help growers sell everything they grow and can grow. I don’t want to dominate the local foods market – I want to grow the local foods market.

This isn’t exactly harvest season in Missouri right now. I concentrate during the winter months on finding sources for non-fresh items to add to the list, like the vinegar. That just blows me away. For next week, I’ve got the first Missouri ducks and geese coming in to augment my free-range chicken program. By early summer, I’ll have a walk-in freezer in my warehouse. My warehouse is in the shadow of a former giant chicken-processing plant that was aced out by the Tysons, the national, vertically integrated operations. It’s ironic. But yeah, this is a great time for me to take a bit of a break. I’m going on vacation in the first half of March. I’m going back to St. John, the smallest island in the Virgin Islands. Now I know where the only organic farmer in St. John is!

Is there an unusual kind of produce you try to champion? Kohlrabi is really low profile. Most people have never seen one and they don’t know what it is. It looks like Sputnik. It suggests a root vegetable, but it’s not. The stem swells up right above the ground, and that’s the edible part. That’s a real underappreciated item. They’re delicious.

Is there a fruit or vegetable you’re getting excited about coming in-season soon? That’s the wonderful thing about seasonality. I’ve been looking forward to asparagus for weeks now because that’s one of the first things that comes up in the springtime. I’ll buy as much as I can and eat as much as I can and sell as much as I can and pretty soon it’ll be over. Now we’re actually changing the seasonality of the tomato season. Growing up, my dad was in competition with the neighbors to grow the first tomato of the season. But with hoop houses, I’ve got beautiful homegrown tomatoes now. We’ve taken the novelty away from the tomato season.

There’s all kinds of little small-demand items that are fun, like black radishes. I just sold the last of the chestnuts today. The boys at Niche are making chestnut soup. I rounded up 76 pounds of Missouri chestnuts. I get excited about all of it.

Even cauliflower? You wouldn’t think there would be that much variety in cauliflower. There’s only like three varieties grown for mass sales. On a small scale, with a shorter shelf life, people can grow old-time varieties of cauliflower that are just delicious, that have a triple flavor-burst of what the cellophane-wrapped cauliflower tastes like in the supermarkets.

Do you enjoy driving in the open country when you go to and from the small farms? I depend on being able to get out of town and onto the road, but off of the interstate. The visual environment is so much mellower – being able to see long distances and smooth curves instead of right angles. I keep a camera in the car. Sometimes I slam on the brakes and pull over to take a picture. I like to drive around, but I have hired help, too. I have three part-time drivers.

Do you have a favorite fruit or veggie? If you pressed a gun to my head, I would say black raspberries. They’re so rare you don’t even see them in the regular market; you have to get them from someone that grows them.

Do you ever miss the fun you had at Riddles? That’s a lot of fun, having a restaurant. I don’t get to hear much live music anymore, either, like we had every night at Riddles. It’s great to have a retail business and to have steady contact with your customers. That’s a really grueling occupation and best suited for the young. I’m too old to work 90 hours a week, and I don’t have to do that anymore. It’s a new challenge that has gotten my entrepreneurial juices going. There’s a restaurant on every corner, and there’s not a lot of people doing what I’m doing, so I enjoy being an innovator.

What is the story of the restaurant name, Riddles Penultimate? My wife’s mother was Mrs. Riddle. She was a waitress all her life. Our first place on Natural Bridge [Road] from ‘80 to ‘85 was Riddles, so I wanted to keep the name, but also to change it. “Penultimate” was a favorite word of mine. At that time we imagined ourselves having yet another restaurant, an ultimate restaurant, which we never did. We were the first place to ever use the term “wine bar” in St. Louis. We had the first nitrogen wine-dispensing machine used in a public restaurant in St. Louis.

Riddles was in The Loop for some 20 years; you were really able to watch the neighborhood change. It’s a fascinating part of town. I used to skip school and go to The Loop for the used bookstores when I was in high school. I took advantage of a storefront called the Peace Information Center as I approached draft age. It’s always been a vital and upbeat area. I was part of the merchants’ group that opposed the chain restaurants coming to the Loop.

Do you have any words of advice for the crew at Three Kings Public House, which occupies the space that used to be Riddles Penultimate? My bar manager is one of the Three Kings, so there’s some continuity there. Derek Flieg. He was always a star employee. I’m glad he put together some investors and was always able to stay there. He does a great job.

You’re known for being a real wine-lover, too. Yeah, I drink wine every day but it’s a whole different experience when you don’t have a wholesale license anymore! I used to be able to schedule a wine salesman to host a tasting at Riddles any day I wanted. Now I’m on the hunt at the retail level for bottles that sell for less than they’re worth. I also have a few nice bottles leftover from that Riddles cellar, and every now and then we crack one open. We won the RFT readers poll 13 or 14 years in a row for the best wine list.

Did your mom have to work to get you to eat your vegetables while growing up? We had a big garden all the time and that’s where I learned to appreciate homegrown tomatoes. My dad started ‘em in the cellar and babied them along. We grew okra and green peppers and I enjoyed them, although my mom was of the school that you should cook them until they laid down flat in the pan as a mush (laughs). I’ll always remember the first time my girlfriend stir-fried a bunch of vegetables in a wok. I couldn’t believe it – they shone with flavor. My big nemesis as a kid was rutabaga. My dad believed that rutabaga was god’s gift to mankind. Not only did I have to eat it, I had to like it. They could make me eat it, but they could not make me like it. I love it now.

What area restaurants do you enjoy dining at? I like to patronize my customers because they tend to be the most careful chefs in town. I just had a great meal the other night at Acero.

Are you good at thumping a melon? Watermelons respond to the thump. They begin to reverberate more when they ripen. I judge smaller melons with a slight pressure at the stem end or by the aroma.

Have you ever watched the cartoon Veggie Tales? No. I haven’t had a TV in 30 years. There are huge sections of popular culture I’m not familiar with. I don’t know how people find time for TV. I hear there’s been this enormous foodie explosion involving chefs who act crazy on TV, but I ain’t hip to that.(Laughs)

Is there a food book or movie you really dig? I enjoyed the book Kitchen Confidential years ago and had dinner with Anthony Bourdain at Duff’s one night. It was kind of exaggerated, but it was interesting. Everyone who’s been in the restaurant industry since their youth has had similar experiences.

Have you seen any of the recent wave of food-justice documentaries, like Food Inc.? I have. They all kind of melt together. More than one of them has featured Joel Salatin. It’s great that it reflect the interests of the public and the foodies, but the real grassroots thing that has resulted in the proliferation of farmers’ markets is what really blows my mind. It’s really anti-corporate, and there’s no big money behind it. It’s the perfect meaning of the term “grassroots,” literally. It’s neighbors talking about how delicious the food they found there is. That’s how it got rolling. It’s been an organic growth, and I don’t think it’s a passing fad. I remember when the grocery store was 98-percent white bread and maybe like two-percent rye. Eventually the market mix really changed and there was a vast proliferation of other kinds of bread. Wheat bread is not a fad. Look at the microbrew industry. I talk to farmers a lot, and I use that as an example. It seemed like the economics were insurmountable, the trend of bigger and bigger, and getting down to only one or two big breweries in the country, and then look what happened. This group of crazy home brewers made beer for themselves and showed everyone how good it was. In the last 10 or 15 years, the only part of the industry that’s growing is the craft market, which is on fire. Now the big guys try to make their beers sound like they’re craft beers. People decided to make a high- quality product and market it specifically as a by-hand, small-scale product, and it worked.

Which is great – except for the foodie who goes all the way into self-parody, like some Brooklyn hipster buying the world’s rarest cheeses for a pretentious artisanal tasting party. There have been some excesses. Some edges are going to get rubbed off. That’s not the central thrust of what’s happening, anyway. Because of the changes in the market there are young people going into farming. It’s like somebody starting an auto company and announcing they’re going to compete with GM. They would have laughed you out of the bank 15 year ago. It’s different now. It’s not easy to get started, but it can be done.

What’s one of your favorite dishes to cook? One of the advantages of being in the food business is a well-stocked kitchen. I got a beautiful pork steak about as big around as a football this week. I was out in Wright City and I bought a whole “Prius-load” of sweet potatoes, but this farmer’s pork is so good, I bought some for myself. I made some homemade applesauce to go with that pork steak. We always have a couple of vegetables with every dinner and a bottle of cheap but drinkable wine. I love having dinner at home now, uninterrupted, as opposed to my days at the restaurant.

You have been known to take little jaunts out-of-state to source hard-to-find products. I’ve just got some really good quality corn grits I had to go to Kentucky for. I couldn’t find anybody any closer who knew from grits. I found an actual 19th century water-operated grist mill that stone-grinds the grits, and I drove to Midway, Kentucky, to meet them and see the place. This is the best quality product available. I like to stay within 150 miles, but sometimes you gotta go where you gotta go, even if it’s 300 miles. Meeting the people is important to me, too. I also just got this amazing vinegar from Cody, Nebraska, where a farm family grows and harvests the fruit, crushes and vinifies the juice into wine, converts the wine into vinegar, barrel ages, packages and sells the results from a little straw bale-constructed clean room right on the farm. Wait ‘til you taste them!

How long have you worn the beard? Since I ran away from home and went to Mexico when I was about 17. I’ve trimmed it but I haven’t cut it off since. I had this fantasy of being a desperado and not coming back, but I learned I only really feel at home in America.

Have you ever handled produce that looked like something or someone, for instance, an eggplant that looked like a celebrity? Actually, eggplant is frequently anthropomorphic and I once had one that for all the world looked just like Richard Nixon.

7036 Bruno Ave., St. Louis, 314.518.6074, eatherestl.com

— photo by Laura Miller

Spring Training with Jack Petrovic

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Hoping the dead leaves and rotten tomatoes festering in your garden all winter have magically transformed into fertilizer? Possibly. But that oft-forgotten bed of mess will need a little more TLC to yield the garden you’ve been dreaming about all winter long. And you’re just in time; March is the perfect month to get down to business. According to Schlafly Bottleworks’ master gardener and horticulturist Jack Petrovic (pictured), techniques for improving your soil range from throwing topsoil and compost on top of last year’s garden to double-digging your plot and sending soil samples to labs* for analysis. For the average home gardener, though, Petrovic suggested this user-friendly approach to getting your soil in shipshape for prime planting season.

With the enormous amount of erosion and depletion Missouri soils have suffered, we’re left with what’s referred to as “Missouri clay,” with 4 to 6 inches of topsoil in our gardens, if we’re lucky. Start by using a rake to turn over the first few inches of your topsoil. Cover the topsoil with ½ inch of compost or composted manure, and rake it in. Don’t be cheap. Be sure to buy quality compost (Or make your own.). For the cost of a new cell phone, you can have a dump truck-full of quality compost delivered to your door.

Sprinkle a Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF)** over the garden. This will add a balance of important minerals to your soil. You can also add the volcanic rock dust AZOMITE** instead of COF, or use a combination of the two.

Top the COF with a light covering of mulch or straw. If you use leaf mulch, be careful not to work it into the top layer or it will severely rob the soil of nitrogen, and growth may slow or stop for months. Just lay it on top.

Go through this process every year, preferably in the fall (but March is OK, too). Over the years, organic material will eventually leach into the deeper layers, allowing roots to grow deeper.

For a more intense approach (geared towards the more seasoned gardener), Petrovic also offered his “aggressive approach.”

Using a rake, double-dig your garden by starting at one end and digging out a strip of topsoil that’s several inches deep and 1½-feet wide. Place it in a wheelbarrow.

Take your pitchfork to the exposed portion of the garden and work up the brown clay underneath.

Dust the clay with lime (without a magnesium content), then cover it with compost or composted manure and mix it in well with a rake. I add raw, uncomposted vegetable scraps like cabbage leaves as well. Fork the topsoil from your wheelbarrow back over the strip you dug up. Repeat this procedure across your garden.

When finished, rake over the entire garden, and add a light layer of compost, manure, some coffee grounds and a dusting of Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF). Cover it all with straw or mulch. The worms will love you; the microbes will eventually readjust; and with the airspace and nutrients you just added, the plant roots will grow deep enough to continually break up the depths and sustain during the hot weather.

Know this: You will never (in your lifetime anyway) build your clay subsoil up to the point of being rich, fluffy, dark soil full of organic matter. My home garden is over 65 years old. Me, my grandfather, and my father have added truckloads of organic matter to the soil, and what I have now is dark brown instead of light brown clay.

* Petrovic recommended that no matter how you ready your garden, eventually you should get your soil tested by a professional lab. He said, “I use Logan Labs in Lakeview Ohio ($20) because the lab’s report allows me to calculate and perfectly balance the mineral content of my soil simply by going online to www.growabundant.com and plugging my results into their mineralization calculator.”

** Available at Worm’s Way, 1225 North Warson Road, Olivette, 314.994.3900, wormsway.com

Stop by Schlafly Bottleworks on the first Saturday of every month at 9 a.m. for Petrovic’s community gatherings and check out Schlafly’s Gardenworks’ Facebook page for news on upcoming gardening classes.

— photo by Laura Miller

Local chef takes part in first lady’s program

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

061710_mealthymesEarlier this month, chefs from 37 states visited Washington to participate in the launch of Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move to Schools program. The only area chef included: Lauren McCabe.

McCabe – who operates the MealThymes personal-chef service in Augusta, Mo. – passed a whirlwind 36 hours in the nation’s capital for the June 4 conference after being nominated to attend by Operation Food Search, where she volunteers.

“The first lady’s goal is to really eliminate or reverse the childhood obesity epidemic within one generation,” McCabe told us. Chefs Move to Schools, which the Department of Agriculture will oversee, will pair schools with local chefs, who will try to educate children about the benefits of a nutritional diet, she noted.

“Government can’t dictate this – we have to change this locally,” said McCabe. “You can’t legislate a healthy lifestyle. … It’s not part of our national culture to legislate those things, so we really have to change a belief structure.” The Agriculture Department should be pairing chefs and schools in late summer or early fall, McCabe estimated, although she herself has already informally spoken to one school district in St. Charles County, where she lives.

Other shoppers’ supermarket purchases often astound her, McCabe noted. “If people read what was in this stuff, if they took the time to learn it, then most people would never eat it again,” she said. “And I’m not one of those people that says you can’t ever have a bag of potato chips or you can’t ever go to a fast-food burger place. I mean, let’s be realistic. But know what you’re eating and know what’s in it so you can make the decision. And certainly don’t eat it every day.”

McCabe expressed great enthusiasm for Chefs Move to Schools. “The program is something that’s really, really very close to my heart,” she said, “because I’ve been a volunteer for Operation Frontline for about a year and a half now and teach classes in a classroom environment and work with economically disadvantaged families to try to teach them to eat healthy on a budget.”

Photo courtesy of Lauren McCabe

Trujillo joins Clayton Farmer’s Market

Friday, May 7th, 2010

050710_cfarmersThe Clayton Farmer’s Market opens its 10th season in roughly two weeks – and new market master A.J. Trujillo is jazzed about that.

“You wouldn’t think that the difference between a head of lettuce that’s local and organic and maybe a generic piece of produce would be so dramatic, but it really is,” she told us. “So the pleasure that a person can take in that experience at a local farmers’ market is what I always enjoy. And it is what drew me to become involved, because I wanted to be able to share that with other people.”

In consequence, Trujillo – who also owns and operates the Loop’s Star Clipper with hubby Ben – jumped at the chance to oversee the Clayton market. It will run each Saturday from May 22 to Oct. 30 from 8:30 a.m. to noon on the Straub’s parking lot on the west side of the supermarket at 8282 Forsyth Blvd.

In particular, Trujillo praised the market’s cleanliness, centrality and “top-tier vendors, really just wonderful, best-of local ag and local artisans that we’re really very proud to showcase.” In reflecting on her new position, in fact, she could scarcely contain her enthusiasm: “It was only really recently and so late in life that I tasted what a tomato should taste like. And it was such – I’m gonna start sounding like a crazy hippy right now – such a rich and joyous and rewarding moment for me, it was eye-opening.”

With other area market managers, Trujillo has brainstormed about innovations like the fairest, safest and best way to offer new products. “We’d like to be able to support local sustainable businesses in general, in addition to our wonderful growers,” she confessed.

Beyond offering its customary wares, the Clayton market will host a number of family-friendly events like a seed swap and a soap-making demo, noted Trujillo. “We’ll be doing a pie-eating contest,” she said. “We’ll be doing a corn-shucking contest. We’ll be doing pumpkin carving. We’ll be getting some really great organizations out to talk to our patrons, like Plants of Merit. I’m hoping to get the Webster Groves Herb Society out to talk about 10 herbs for your garden – all this, again, in recognition of our anniversary.”

In projecting how she’ll pass her Saturdays during the next few months, Trujillo lapsed into an almost poetic reverie. “You’re smelling that freshly baked local artisan bread and seeing those perfect cheeses and looking at those radishes that are almost like jewels,” she mused, “and it’s a perfect morning.”

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