Hello Stranger | Login | Create Account
 
 
 
 
 
  SAUCE MAGAZINE
|
Sep 16, 2014
|
Intelligent Content For The Food Fascinated
|
SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
Email | Text-size: A | A | A

Five Questions with Ben Edison: The extended interview

April 4th 01:04pm, 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

By Byron Kerman

Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “Five Questions with Ben Edison: The extended interview”

  1. Tim Barnes Says:
    April 6th, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Great article! I am a little biased since Ben is my nephew. Every other Christmas, We have a huge, weeklong vacation at the beaches of South Alabama for Christmas and he spends most of that time cooking. We are talking about up to 20 plus people. He has perfected the chicken and dumplings that our late Aunt (and matriarch) was famous for., but really his meals run the full gamut of greatness. My contribution to his preparation is drinking beer and catching the fresh fish. I seem to excel at the former and not the latter. Proud of you and Delaney Benjamen and love you both!

Leave a Reply


nine − 5 =

RSS FEEDS
Keep up with one or all of your favorite Sauce Magazine columns
Conceived and created by Bent Mind Creative Group, LLC 1999-2014, Bent Mind Creative Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Sauce Magazine 1820 Chouteau Ave. St. Louis, Missouri 63103.
PH: 314-772-8004 FAX: 314-241-8004