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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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What I Do

What I Do: Josh Charles, a St. Louis freelance chef

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

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Four years ago, then-23-year-old Josh Charles was a Sauce One to Watch at Elaia and Olio. He went on to prove his mettle as executive chef at Element, then Blood & Sand. But when his son, Aiden, was born, Charles suddenly found his restaurant career at odds with family life – so he quit. Today, Charles works as a private chef, consults for restaurants like Das Bevo, does research and development at Metabolic Meals and markets his own brand online with eyes on a national TV show. Here, the gig-economy chef explains what he’s up to.

 

“I went through a funk like three months in: ‘What am I doing?’ I realized it’s because 10 years being in this culture, of being around people where you can be yourself … but it’s also serious, there’s results, objectives. There’s that push to service, there’s adrenaline. All that stuff went away, so I had to really find myself again.”

“I just put out a thing on social media, on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn saying, ‘Hey, I’m available for freelance positions: food photography, recipe development, R&D, cooking classes, private dinners – whatever you want.’ And Jason, the owner [of Metabolic Meals], reached out to me through LinkedIn … It’s right up my alley. I get to make recipes. I get to develop. I get to cook, and I don’t have to do all the management stuff. I don’t have to check the clipboard and make sure people are showing up on time.”

“I have no marketing background. I have no idea what I’m doing – I have no idea. Not only is social media branding, but every engagement you do is branding. So it starts with yourself and face-to-face interactions, but then social media amplifies that. In this day and age, it’s crazy how far my message can travel. … Ten years ago, I could have done the exact same thing I’m doing now, and no one would know my name.”

“I can eat silly amounts of food. I went to L.A. to visit my uncle recently and he’s in perfect shape year-round. He watched me eat six meals a day. … I have two lunches, two dinners, a late-night dessert, and I just try to experience as much as possible in the few short hours I’m in a city.”

“I do CrossFit primarily because to me, it’s just like PE for adults. I don’t have to think about it. … Ultimately, I’m actually pretty lazy. Whenever I’m left to my own devices working out, I’m like, ‘Oh, I could lift this, or I could just go home. I think I’ll go home.’”

“I was in marching band in high school. … Drumline culture is very similar to kitchen culture. There’s no filter in drumline, essentially. You’re the noisy obnoxious kids in the back. Those kids go cook in a kitchen.”

“I have many avenues for what I want to do, and one of them is open a pizza and pasta restaurant in Collinsville. That’s where I live, and the overall thing is I want to create a community. I want a family restaurant where my son can be there doing stuff, and no one is going to bat an eye because, ‘Oh, that’s his son, Aiden, and he’s just back there playing with dough because he’s 2 years old.’”

“These fragments of fine dining, they don’t disappear. I’ll be in the shower and think, ‘Huh, I wonder… I know exactly how that would taste.’”

“It’s literally ingrained into my DNA, that rush of service, getting it over with and then getting a round of drinks for the crew. … I do miss it, but the second I start to miss it, I just look at my life and what I’m doing, and this is still cool and still fun.”

Find Josh at chefjoshcharles.com, Facebook: Chef Josh Charles, Instagram: @chefjoshcharles

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.

 

What I Do: Heidi Hamamura at Guerrilla Street Food

Monday, January 1st, 2018

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Heidi Hamamura’s culinary education started when she absorbed her father, chef Naomi Hamamura’s, knowledge of sushi, Japanese and French fare in their kitchen after school. Since then, she has made a career out of exploring new cuisines: Italian with Jamey Trochtop at Stellina, Malaysian and Chinese with Bernie Lee at Hiro Asian Kitchen and modernist fine dining with Ben Grupe at Elaia. Now she’s diving into Filipino fare as executive chef of Guerrilla Street Food’s upcoming location on The Loop.

 

“The most I’ve had was five jobs at one time. It was intense, but I kept myself busy. … It’s like if someone likes yoga – loves it. It’s like going to different yoga classes all the time. Me going to different restaurants all the time and working was just fun. It was less like work.”

“My dad always told me you have to enjoy what you’re doing, and if you don’t, then I won’t back you up in life. If you love McDonald’s and you want to work at McDonald’s and you love everything about the company, then I will support you 100 percent. But if you work at McDonald’s and you bitch about life and complain all the time and do nothing about it, I’m not going to help you.”

“[My son] cooks already with my dad, too. … He likes to help cook his meals. He drags a chair over and wants to help hold the pan and sprinkle the salt on. He’s already there. My mom’s like, ‘No, you’re supposed to be a doctor!’”

“Since I didn’t go to culinary school, I promised [Trochtop] I wouldn’t leave if he taught me something new every day – a new word, anything. Even after work, I’d come back for my third shift and help him roll pasta until two in the morning. We’d grab a beer and roll pasta together because I wanted to learn.”

“Ben Grupe was one of the chefs that really inspired me. That’s the kind of cooking that I want to learn, that I love. It might be a small dish, but there is so much flavor in that, and creativity. It’s like art – you don’t want to eat it.”

“If we could find someone to open a [Japanese street food bar] in St. Louis, it would make so much money. … If the right investor comes or if I win the lottery, that would be really fun to do.”

“Making sushi is by far the most fun for me. … It’s the interaction and the different kinds of ways you can create and make sushi and display it. It’s like an art form. There are so many different ways you can beef up sushi or display an array of sashimi with different vegetables that go with certain fish or different spices. … I can eat sushi every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“I remember the first time my dad took me out [to the lake]. … We were sitting on the boat drinking beers, and I had my fishing pole in the water and the sunset is going down and I said, ‘Whoever the hell created fishing is a genius. This is the best feeling ever.’”

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
• Guerrilla Street Food will open a location in The Delmar Loop

• The Story of Hama

• Sauce Magazine: January 2018

What I Do: Reginald Quarles at Teatopia

Friday, December 1st, 2017

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Reginald Quarles is a contradictory man. A competitive athlete obsessed with jujitsu, he’s also a peaceful vegan who loves Paulo Coelho and Deepak Chopra. After the sudden death of his mother two years ago, Quarles quit an unfulfilling career in insurance to open his teeny tea shop, Teatopia, on Cherokee Street in January. Less than a year after opening, he has a new, larger space down the block with around 70 teas and blends available. Here, Quarles shares his experiences with meditation, secret tearooms and finding balance.

 

“The biggest thing behind Teatopia – our mission statement – is brewing better lives one leaf at a time. We encounter so much negativity on a daily basis, and we need a space to counter that, to make us feel safe. That’s why it’s so peaceful and clean-cut and relaxing. I feel like we need that.”

“Before I opened this, I worked at a mental health insurance company. I worked with the critical incident team: robbery and homicide, suicide, major layoffs anywhere across the U.S. My job was to provide counselors to respond to it. … I was 27 at the time, and everyone else I worked with was fine with where they were at. They were complacent. I wanted to be more. I wanted to do more, so in June of last year, I walked out in the middle of the day.”

“I took an extended trip to New York, and I spent a ton of time in Chinatown. I had this guide show me around. I like to call them secret tearooms because they’re so easy to miss. They’re probably smaller than the small space I was in at first, but there is so much knowledge and culture. I learned a ton.”

“Everyone has their way of meditating. My way of meditating is making tea. Sometimes I get a ton of meditating done in a day just because I make so many different teas.”

“If you use water that is too hot for a white tea or a green tea, it will scorch the tea leaf and get really bitter and dry. Tea has tannins just like red wine has tannins, and the more that you steep it and the hotter the water, that’s when those tannins start to release.”

“I’m currently drinking a tea that’s called pu-erh tea. Raw pu-erh is the tea you would buy and probably give to your grandkids. It can take 20 years to age and ferment. All teas ferment to an extent. This tea takes a long time to ferment, and the idea is the longer it ferments, the better it will be. These tea leaves come from tea trees that are about 500 to 1,000 years old, if not older.”

“Jujitsu is really difficult because it’s like chess with your body. That’s what it boils down to. It’s getting in and out of certain situations and being able to protect yourself. When I compete, I’m at peace.”

“I’m actually super hard on myself. It may not seem like it, but I have a very high standard for myself. I have this belief that no one should want my goal more than I want it.”

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
• Tiny tea shop Teatopia opens on Cherokee Street

• What I Do: Mandy Estrella of Plantain Girl

• Sauce Magazine: December 2017

What I Do: Mandy Estrella of Plantain Girl

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

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Mandy Estrella didn’t grow up with pernil and plantains – it wasn’t until she married a Dominican man after culinary school that she fell in love with the cuisines of Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. That passion prompted Estrella to launch Plantain Girl, a Caribbean catering service that’s popped up at places like Crafty Chameleon, Six Mile Bridge Beer and, most recently, Anew. Here, Estrella talks education, sweet plantains and respecting another culture’s cuisine.

 

“I learned how to cook most things more so out of necessity when we moved back here, because the food wasn’t here. [My ex-husband] would constantly complain, ‘The food is not here – there’s nothing to eat.’ He knew how to cook some things, so I was able to take what I learned and start learning new things.”

“Oxtail was another thing you couldn’t find. We used to go to Soulard Market, and they had the whole tails. … You couldn’t find them in a regular supermarket. It was so expensive, which was crazy because the reason these cultures adapted these foods is because it was so cheap.”

“I’m not trying to misappropriate someone’s food culture. I have to be very cautious of this. I didn’t know if people were going to perceive it correctly. I didn’t know if [Hispanic] people would be like, ‘You’re just trying to make money off our food.’ … As long as the food is correct, they’re just thrilled anyone is making it.”

“I went to work at a bank for a few years. It’s the only job I had outside of a restaurant, and it was the most boring experience of my life. I was just sitting there. I found myself bothering account holders at other people’s desks because I was so bored. … I just kept thinking, ‘I have to have a 401(k). I have to have insurance. I have to sit at a desk. That’s what everybody does.’ I lasted about two years, and then I said, ‘I can’t do it.’”

“Most of what I’ve been doing so far is one big giant test kitchen. … It’s trying to figure out in St. Louis: what do people want to eat, which foods do they know, which foods do they not understand – that they’re not even going to order. It’s trying different things I haven’t cooked before and getting the recipes correct, putting it in front of Hispanic people to try and say, ‘Yes, that’s correct,’ or ‘No, you probably needed to do this.’”

“Sweet plantains are always on the menu. Even if [customers] don’t want them, I make them because I just know if it’s not put in front of them, they aren’t going to request it. When you put it in front of them they go, ‘This is fantastic!’ I know – I know!”

“[A woman] contacted me about catering at her home for her husband’s birthday. They’re both Venezuelan, and all their friends are Venezuelan and Colombian. So we did that in her home. It went great, and then six days later, they were at our popup at Anew, eating. … I was like, ‘You probably still have leftovers in your fridge and you’re up here buying food again.’ And they ordered probably five times more food than they needed and took it home with them.”

“I usually have 23 independent thoughts in my brain at all times. It’s tough to keep it all straight.”

Catch Plantain Girl at The Cuban Café pop-ups, Nov. 10 to 12 and Nov. 16 to 18 at Anew in Grand Center.

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.

Related Content
Sauce Magazine: November 2017

• What I Do: Bernie Lee of Hiro Asian Kitchen

• What I Do: Alisha Blackwell-Calvert of Reeds American Table

What I Do: Bernie Lee of Hiro Asian Kitchen

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

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Leaving everyone and everything you know to come to the United States and pursue a dream is the quintessential immigrant experience. Hiro Asian Kitchen owner Bernie Lee’s story is no different. After leaving Malaysia to study, learn the culture and improve his English in St. Louis, Lee seized the opportunity to open his own restaurant (609 Restaurant & U Lounge).

Now Lee serves some of the city’s best Asian fusion at Hiro, where he has slowly added Malaysian dishes he grew up eating. At first, he wanted to have a business that welcomed all people. Now, it’s become a place where he can share his culture.

 

“You just have to learn how to survive. When I was in [college], one of my classmates told me I spoke the worst English he ever heard in his life. It was so embarrassing. I didn’t know how to express myself. In my class, I was always the last pick [in a group presentation] because they thought I didn’t speak well. I spoke six other languages they didn’t even understand. But it forced me to be better.”

“I’m Malaysian-Chinese. My parents are first-generation Malaysian-Chinese. My grandparents in the 1940s were refugees. They escaped from China, from the revolution, very young – 15, 16, 17. They were very poor, and as refugees, what do they know? They worked. They had tons of babies – work, have a baby, work, have a baby. Refugees, they all have to go through the same things. It’s never easy.”

“The motivation behind 609 was I was not treated nicely at a bar one day. I was bullied in public. I told myself someday I need to create a place where everybody is welcome. Two years later, I had an opportunity to open my own place. To be honest, I was 27, I was young. I said, ‘Screw it, let’s do it! If I fail, I fail.’”

“Americans only eat fish fillet. No bone! No skin! No head! No tail! Nothing! So that’s what I had been taught. Only fillet. So, this is what I know. I had opened 609 and one day I thought, ‘Why don’t we do whole fish?’ People said, ‘No, no, no. Nobody will touch that!’ All right. One day I went to [a local restaurant], and it’s all white folks, and they tell me, ‘Our most famous dish is a red snapper.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s order that.’ It came out whole fried red snapper! Everyone was ordering it, loving it, no problem. You go to this restaurant, pay $30 for a whole crispy fish – it’s just salt, pepper that’s it – you think it’s a great dish. The whole fish in an Asian restaurant, people say, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And I bet they would not even pay $15 for it. It drives me nuts. That’s why for Malaysian Week we [had] whole fish. Head, tail, bone, everything. This is how we eat it back home and that’s how it should be.”

“Just cook it the way you want it. I tell the kitchen, don’t worry how people will like it or not like it. If they don’t like it? Fine! Sorry! Pick another one. I’m very proud of them.”

“Even though the plate is nice, it still has the flavor that reminds them of home. The chicken clay pot [at Hiro], the origin is from Taiwan; we cook it Taiwanese style. This is a dish like meatball pasta – everybody makes good meatball pasta, but when you eat it you go, ‘Oh, my mom’s is better.’ One woman ordered it, and I saw she was crying. I asked if she was OK, I thought she maybe burned herself. She said, ‘No, this dish reminds me of my mom.’ Her mom had passed away. She said, ‘We ate this when we were kids, this is exactly what my mom would cook.’”

“You have to trust yourself. You have to believe in your culture. If you believe, you can deliver. If you don’t believe, there’s no point.”

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Meera Nagarajan is art director at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
• Sauce Magazine: October 2017 

• Best of Brunch 2017

• What I Do: Alisha Blackwell-Calvert of Reeds American Table

 

What I Do: Alisha Blackwell-Calvert of Reeds American Table

Friday, September 1st, 2017

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Certified sommelier Alisha Blackwell-Calvert has a knack for navigation. She spends most of her time curating and guiding customers through Reeds American Table’s award-winning wine list, but on Saturdays, she squires tourists about town in a carriage drawn by a horse named Moose. Blackwell-Calvert recently left a promising career in beverage distribution to reenter the restaurant industry as Reeds’ beverage director, and she hasn’t looked back. Here, she shares how she spends her downtime, her thoughts on wine in a can and what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I am a science geek. I love geology; I love geography; I love culture. I had no idea that … in wine, you put all these things together. … The geography of the place and what the people are like and what they eat, and this is the wine that they make and because the sun hits this hill at a certain angle, the grapes taste this way. My mind was blown.”

“I took the entry-level sommelier exam through the Court of Master Sommeliers in Kansas City. I studied for months and months … and did very well. I felt very comfortable taking that test. After the test was over, and I got my little ‘You made it’ diploma, master sommelier Doug Frost leans over and says, ‘You should stick with this.’ … That was a big deal. It made my heart feel good.”

“It took me two weeks to think about [moving to Reeds]. I was very happy with Vintegrity and the hours and the flexibility. But I thought about my career and what I want to do when I grow up, if you will, and Alisha Blackwell-Calvert wants to be a master sommelier. It’s not something you can sign up for and it happens, but it’s what I want to work toward … and in order to do that, you need restaurant experience.”

“It’s not all glitz and glamour and slinging Dom. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. I’m constantly tasting. It’s a mountain of paperwork and spreadsheets. The fun part is hanging out on the floor trying to sell you a bottle, but there are hours and hours of work that go into making that moment happen for the guest.”

“Horses are my peaceful time, especially when I’m with my sweetheart, Moose. He’s so calm, and he’s so pretty, and he’s so friendly. We have a bond and a relationship that’s like no other. You can’t nuzzle up to a bottle of wine – or you could. I guess you could. It depends on what the wine is.”

“One thing I want to knock and can’t is wine from a can. I can’t knock it, I’ve had some good ones. They’re not all good, but the good ones are great. Friction makes really good wines in a can. … It’s like blueberry pie. I was like, ‘This is stupid – this is the worst idea ever,’ and then, ‘Aw crap, it’s good. Damn it.’”

“The typical-looking sommelier back in the day used to be the old white guy at the restaurant. Now it’s the young white guy at the restaurant, and I am neither of those things. Especially when you get to the master sommelier level, there are not a lot of people who look like me. … I don’t fit some people’s thought of how I should be. I don’t fit that stereotype or that mold. I don’t seek it out – I’m just me.”

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.

Related Content
Best New Restaurants: No. 5 – Reeds American Table

Best of Brunch 2017: Reeds American Table

Super Somms: St. Louis’ top wine students prepare to hold court

What I Do: Colleen Clawson at Milque Toast Bar

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

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Chef Colleen Clawson can do wonders with a piece of toast. Like an artist with a blank canvas, she piles vibrant ingredients into colorful, edible works of art that are devoured in short order at Milque Toast Bar. Clawson spent years in fine dining kitchens (Five Bistro, Remy’s Kitchen & Wine Bar, Sidney Street Cafe, to name a few), but she and Amanda Geimer struck out on their own two years ago with a tiny breakfast and lunch spot across the alley from Clawson’s McKinley Heights home. Here, she shares her inspirations, how she blows off steam and a brief message to avocado toast haters.

 

“Sometimes I could make things simpler, but where’s the fun in that? You have this toast and it’s this thing with 18 different elements all of a sudden, but it looks really good like that and it tastes awesome, so I’m just leaving it. I guess I’d rather people wait two extra minutes.”

“[Avocado toast] is delicious. Like, what is your problem? Why do you hate life so much? Aren’t there much more important things to be angry about? I could give you a big long list of things that are legitimately wrong that you could get mad for.”

“I have a couple of reference books that I still always go back to because they’re just so good. ‘The Flavor Bible’ … I like ‘The Herbfarm Cookbook,’ which I think is out of print now, but it’s one of my all-time favorites that I always go back to. And the ‘Chez Panisse Cookbook.’ I have some of [Alice Waters’] other ones, too, which I really like, but that’s the one I always find myself looking at again and again. I guess for the same reason you use Google. There’s an aesthetic and a style that I really enjoy, and I feel more akin to that way of making things.”

“I wish people understood they’re paying for a lot of things that aren’t just on your plate. There is a way that I could make this place even cheaper, but I’m not going to because I would have to sacrifice what’s more important.”

“It’s a great time to be in food in St. Louis. You could start with William Thomas Pauley over at Confluence Kombucha. I just saw him. Their particular place is completely unique. … Sometimes when you’ve worked in restaurants for a really long time, you look at things and you know what happened. Sometimes I look at his food and I’m like, ‘What happened? How did he do that?’ In a great way. It’s still mysterious to me.”

“I love dancing. We just went to a reggae show at 2720. Those guys are doing some really neat things down there. The whole arcade and Blank Space and Rumpshaker parties – those are really fun. I haven’t been to one of those in a while because it gets kind of late, and I’m way more boring than I used to be, but I feel better at 6 a.m.”

“There’s this frame shop in Soulard that I worked at where I discovered I really adored this craft. There’s definitely a craft to it. We built everything. There’s matting in framing, so there’s a lot of design and a lot of precision with it, and it feels good to me the same way making a really beautiful plate where everything is supposed to be. There’s a visual, immediate gratification.”

“[My son’s] rebellion is wanting fast food. On his birthday, … he wanted to go to Subway. I was like, ‘You’re kidding me – of all the places?’ But whatever, it’s what he wanted. So we played putt-putt golf and went to Subway. And he was really happy.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

What I Do: Mary Bogacki at Yolklore

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

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Mary Bogacki has done it all. After getting her start schlepping buffet trays as a teen server, she found her way into the sweet world of pastry. She’s crafted delicate delights at the Four Seasons, baked comforting classics at Winslow’s Home and got downright weird at Strange Donuts. Now she’s cracking eggs at her popular Crestwood lunch spot, Yolklore. Here, the local sweets star on getting started, keeping it in the family and the future of Yolklore.

 

My first restaurant job was at Russo’s Catering. I was a banquet server. I think I was 16. It was the absolute worst. But they were shorthanded one day, and asked me to help plate up for this huge banquet for 300. So I jumped on it and started plating and thought, ‘This is awesome.’ That’s probably what sucked me in at first.”

I honestly never thought I’d end up with someone who was in the industry. But I think that that’s the only way it works out – either you have an extremely understanding partner, or someone who’s also in the industry and gets it. My dream was always to open a restaurant with my husband and have that be our family. John [Bogacki]’s dad is an executive chef, so he grew up in the culture of the kitchen. By working together, we’ve elevated each other. I couldn’t be happier. I definitely wouldn’t have done it with anyone else.”

If I wasn’t in the restaurant industry? I don’t know. I think I might have been a tattoo artist. I thought about doing that for a while, but I never had the guts. John’s always like, ‘It’s not too late!’”

We try to go out and try new stuff. We just moved to South County, so we’re trying to discover what’s there. We found a cool little Thai place by us, Thai Orchid, that has a beef noodle soup, like their version of a pho. We love going to Soulard – Tucker’s Place is our place to go there. They have the best burgers, and they’re only like $5.95. I don’t know what they do to them, but they’re great, and different from the South County location.” 

I play hockey with my dad when I can, usually late at night. There’s a group called the Wednesday Night Eagles at the ice rink in Affton. It’s just a pickup game with whoever shows up. My sister says, ‘You’re the son Dad never had.’”

We play around with so many ideas. We love the idea of doing another concept, or doing something similar to Yolklore. There’s no solid plan as of yet. We just like to dream, and don’t sit still for too long. But as of right now we’re pretty content just trying to train a solid crew and getting everything where it needs to be.”

Photo by Izaiah Johnson

What I Do: Logan Ely at Square1 Project

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

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Chef Logan Ely doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he’s figuring it out. A St. Louis native, Ely moved back in February after stints at James Beard Award-winning restaurants like Blue Hill in New York City and Pass & Provisions in Houston, to name a few.

He started his underground dinner series, Square1 Project, while looking for a permanent restaurant space. With a propensity for fermented flavors and radically sustainable ingredients – think weaver ants, not just local produce – he serves unique, 14-course tasting menus prepared with minimal equipment and limited resources. He might just know more than he’s letting on.

 

“I had zero money. I had a couple friends who I knew would help me and be a part of it, but I had zero vendors. I was like, ‘Oh, shit. How are we going to do this?’ That’s square one: I know I need tables and chairs. I know I need to get a good credit card and max that thing out. I didn’t want help. I wanted to build this up to something … find my voice. I think it’s the same thing with a writer or a painter. You need a venue to write and get better at what you do, and this is what that is for me – and us, I should say. That’s Square1 Project.”

“Cooking is such a hard thing to do and dedicate your life to. To me, it has to mean something. It’s gotta be important. It’s not enough to just open a restaurant and be like, okay now I want to get an award or two. … I certainly wouldn’t call myself an activist at all, but I’m in that realm of, ‘Hey, it’s OK to eat insects, and look – I can make this taste really good, and it’s sustainable, and you get to support this woman in Denver that’s really trying to do this thing.’ [Wendy Lu McGill, from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch] is an activist. She’s out doing speeches and all that stuff. I think that’s where I see this whole project, restaurant, team going.”

“I’m not going to hand you a bowl of maggots or anything. You won’t even probably see the bugs. Right now I have a garum, a fish sauce, going with crickets and a miso that will take 10 weeks with weaver ants. It’s not gross. I wish I had some on me – I’ve been giving people tastes. When the vendors come by I’m like, ‘Here, taste this.’”

“It’s not like a chef comes into a kitchen and writes a menu and teaches a cook how to do it and that’s it. It’s like, ‘Hey, the fish delivery didn’t show up,’ or, ‘Hey, there’s a gas leak,’ or, ‘This thing caught on fire,’ or, ‘The health inspector is going to shut us down unless this is fixed.’ It’s literally that every single day. It’s the unglamorous part of the gig. It’s what all these Netflix shows don’t show – the chef in the back trying to fix the oven.”

“[North Pond in Chicago] was the first restaurant I worked at where it was so hard, I hated every day of it. Nothing was ever right that I did, nothing was ever good enough. I wasn’t fast enough. I wasn’t clean enough. I was terrible. I had stomachaches every day. … And then, a year-and-a-half goes by, and you realize, ‘I’m way better than my first day.’ The chef [Bruce Sherman] pulled me outside and was like, ‘Hey, good job. You did really well. I pushed you really hard and you were there every step of the way and you grew a lot and I’m really proud of you.’ That was huge.”

“There’s always those things you don’t learn as a cook. Anything fermented, you don’t get a lot of in kitchens – most health departments or inspectors don’t like to see that shit around. So when we were in New York, me and my buddy decided we should know how to do charcuterie. So we started fermenting meat, and we ended up with like seven refrigerators full in our Brooklyn apartment – it was hilarious. He actually now owns a butcher shop in Brooklyn.”

“I get bored very easily. We’ll put something on the menu, and four weeks later I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so embarrassing. I can’t believe we were actually serving that.’”

“At a successful restaurant, the chefs work more hours than the cooks. Dan [Barber, chef at Blue Hill] is a good example. Between the two restaurants, writing his book, doing TED Talks and all this stuff. He’s an awesome dude, very smart, but he’s working his ass off. He’s doing so much stuff. I think that’s inspiring, and it keeps you going if you’re having a hard night or a rough week.”

Book your reservation at Square1 Project, Twitter: @Square1_Project, Instagram: @square1_project

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

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Monday, May 1st, 2017

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Tyler Davis is a details man. From crafting beautiful desserts as executive pastry chef at Element, to designing unique menus for weekly Purveyor’s Table pop-up dinners at Brennan’s, to single-handedly managing his online dessert business, Alchemy Artisan Bakery, Davis aims his self-proclaimed Type A tendencies at confections as visually stunning as they are delicious. Here, the busy sweet tooth shared about finding his passion and making it happen.

“Mom’s the strongest person I know. I didn’t have a father figure growing up – Mom was my mom and my dad. I fell into cooking because she couldn’t always be around to cook. When I was 9 or 10 I was like, ‘I don’t want to eat ramen noodles.’ I called her up and said, ‘How do you fry chicken?’ She was like, ‘Don’t burn down the house.’ She taught me over the phone and I made it.”

“She never bought us presents, but she would always ask what we wanted for our birthday meal and for me, that is the biggest way to show your love.”

“I went to school for cello. I wanted to be a classical musician. I love music, but when you start looking at grad school, auditions, and then you start to see the ratio of classical musicians that have jobs versus those that don’t have jobs and how difficult it is in that industry, I knew deep down inside I wasn’t passionate enough about that to take it to the next level.”

“My mind is always going. I like to start with an original thing and then mix and match it. We’ll have desserts on the spring menu like a cool version of an ice cream sandwich. It has taro ice cream with a matcha dacquoise and black sesame powder. It’s not your typical ice cream sandwich.”

“I started to cook on the side for a few friends to make a little extra money in college. … During that time, it was all experimentation, so anytime I would cook for my friends I was like, ‘Hey, I just saw this on Food Network – I want to try it.’ It definitely sparked a fire. That was the time when all the really cool shows came out, like ‘Top Chef.’ I had never seen anything like that – if I’m in college, I’m not going to spend $60 to $70 going out to eat, but when you see stuff on ‘Top Chef’ you’re like, ‘What is that! This is amazing.’ I became a sponge. Anything that had to do with cooking, I was about it. I watched ‘Yan Can Cook.’ I watched anything with Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Anthony Bourdain, ‘Top Chef’ – Bravo! You couldn’t take me away from Bravo.”

“Alinea was overwhelming. All the courses were phenomenal, but the dessert course stood out – it was a chocolate dish. It had chocolate soil, chocolate rocks, chocolate creme brulee that was a liquid before and they poured it in a ring mold, took [it] off and it was already set and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what’s happening right now!’”

“You can’t be afraid to fail, because it’s going to happen. It’s definitely going to happen. One time I tried to bake – oh my God, it was horrible – this really, really cool pie crust. I wanted it to be cookie crust. I don’t know what I was thinking. … I ended up using baking soda instead of baking powder, and it completely went everywhere and flooded out the oven. But you can’t be afraid to try new things.”

 

Photo by Ashley Gieseking

Meera Nagarajan is art director at Sauce Magazine.

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