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Jul 26, 2014
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Ask the Chef: Anthony Devoti answers your questions

July 19th 02:07pm, 2011

071911_devotebenneIn the first installment of our new online column, Ask the Chef, we put down our pens to let you – our readers – take a turn asking some of the stars in St. Louis’ culinary scene your burning questions. First up is Anthony Devoti, chef and owner of Five Bistro and the shuttered Newstead Tower Public House. And now, from how he got his start to whether he’d ever open another Newstead to his cheese of choice for his cheese steak, he answers your questions …

How did you get started cooking?
Well, we’ve always cooked at home. My folks always cooked a bunch and I’ve always been around food; it’s always been something I’ve been interested in growing up. My grandparents owned a couple restaurants, more I would say breakfast and lunch places. I don’t know if you’d call them greasy spoons but they were more like eggs and toast and working man’s kind of food. My dad worked there when he was a kid; my aunts and uncles all worked there when they were kids. And holiday events, we’re an Italian family and so food was a big deal when we all got together.

How do you source those awesome ingredients?
Well when I first started a lot of this stuff I went to markets for. I was actually actively going to markets meeting farmers. Now I don’t really have to do a whole lot; farmers come to me. They know what we do, we have a good reputation with farmers and we have really good cooks so I think farmers are very proud to bring their products to me. When I first started, I knew Ron Benne (pictured at left) for like six years. I was working in a restaurant in Chesterfield and tried to get that restaurant to be a farm-to-table-to-kitchen type of restaurant. So I met Ron when I was working out there, and when I moved back to St. Louis from San Francisco he was the first person I called. He gave me tips on how to meet these people. I went online and did a bunch of research before the restaurant opened, too. For the last couple of years … people just bring me stuff or they call and they say, “I have this, this and this – do you want it?” Chef-wise we bring each other up, too. Some people say, “Hey this product is unbelievable. I know this guy is good and he will take care of it.” I met Mike Brabo from Vesterbrook [Farm] from Kevin Nashan. Kevin said this guy is a great cook, he loves food and is a really good guy and he would do justice to that product.

A food district executive told me the locavore movement is a “fad, unsustainable and too expensive for 97 percent of consumers.” What are your thoughts?
I just think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. … Locavore is not a movement; it should be a practice. You can eat local if you want to sacrifice and you want to eat real, local food, then you can do it. Is it a little more expensive? Yes, of course. But we grow a bunch of vegetables on our own; it’s not exactly hard to do. I think that that’s a pretty big cop out kind of answer. You have to want to eat good food to eat local. And just because you’re buying local food it means the product’s going to be better but if you don’t know how to cook it, it’s not going to help anything. It’s up to us to all get together. The more people who eat local and buy local, the more readily available it will be, the more farmers who will take care of us. When you go to the grocery store and 80 percent of things are made from corn or corn-based, that’s not really helpful. People have been eating local since the beginning of man. That, to me, is just a stupid comment from the food executive.

Who do you see as upcoming stars of the St. Louis food scene?
I don’t really know; I think the stars are relatively established. I think Adam [Altnether] over at Taste; he’s a really good guy, kind of a fun person to watch I guess. I think there’s a lot of Gerard [Craft] influence in his food personally, but he’s a great guy and he can certainly think on his own. You have to be a really good cook and he’s a really good cook. I eat in a circle of restaurants and I do a circle of things, and so I like Kevin [Nashan] and I like Gerard’s stuff and Josh [Galliano] and those guys. But when I eat out, I typically eat ethnic food; I don’t really go eat at those guys’ restaurants a lot of times because they’re closed when I’m off. Adam I think is a big one. I got a couple guys working for me that I think are pretty kick-ass cooks, and one day they’ll probably end up leaving, but I hope not. I know what they can do.

As many huge strides as St. Louis has taken, I think there are a lot of steps that go backward too. That doesn’t help what people are trying to do food-wise. … People go to culinary school and they think that, oh I’m gonna go to culinary school and I’m gonna be there for six months to a year, and then I’ll work in a hotel and then I’ll work at Five [Bistro]. That’s not how it is. It sucks, it’s hard, it’s hot and it’s even shittier and hotter on days like today. You have to really love what you do to be in this spot.

Newstead made my St. Louis top five list. The burger is simply the best. The service was great! What were the reasons to close?
To be fairly frank and straightforward, we had to close Newstead because of business. It was a lot of people’s top five but it wasn’t enough people’s top five. The quality of the product we were using there was very expensive; it was the same as we do at Five. We had to do a lot of people to turn that over. And The Grove neighborhood hasn’t done anything. It hasn’t done anything since Five was over there. … It was a cool spot and it was an awesome building, but the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t there. I can think of other corners it would’ve been better on; if it was on any of those corners it wouldn’t even be a question.

Are there any reasons that would get you to open another?
I don’t know – a really good location probably. I’m in the spot now [where] I would want to own my own building; I wouldn’t lease ever again. We own our building at Five, and there’s a lot of BS that comes along with it – if the air conditioner breaks, you’re responsible for fixing it – but I wouldn’t change that for anything, the control that you have. We talk about it all the time. That’s pretty much the only reason we do lunch at Five is the burger at Newstead. We only do it three days a week, but that’s something that we kind of wanted to keep going and keep alive and something we felt very strongly about.

Which do you prefer on a cheese steak sandwich: provolone, Provel or Cheese Whiz?
Cheese Whiz. It can be as processed and as terrible and synthetic as whatever, but Cheese Whiz for sure.

Any sous chef opportunities at your restaurant right now?
No, I don’t hire out for chef management kind of things. We build up totally from within. The crew that I have, the person that’s been there the least amount of time is, well we’ve got two new people at six months. Everybody else is two to three years plus. It’s work up to that position for us. It’s because I’m relatively difficult to work for. I think I’m easy to work with, but we have very high expectations. We do a lot of canning and jarring and we buy lots of potatoes and things in the winter. You have to understand the seasonality of what we do. … We brainstrom about menus and what we’re going to do; it’s a pretty open idea process we have going on. And when asparagus season is only six weeks long, people don’t really get that. … When we get further on, you really understand the best timing of things and the seasonality of all of it. You can work [at] some of these places for a couple years before you really understand that. We’re always learning. We’re a bunch of food dorks to the core. We get off on reading magazines and watching TV and reading books about food and that’s what we talk about whenever we’re around each other. And we have a big garden so we enjoy gardening too; that’s a big deal to us.

— Photo by Greg Rannells

By Stacy Schultz

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One Response to “Ask the Chef: Anthony Devoti answers your questions”

  1. star Says:
    December 17th, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    wonder which brings out best taste in red meat ,low temp but long duration like slow cooker ,or high heat short duration like broil or frying or griddle ,or the third option ,pressure cooking ?

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