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The Scoop: Tree House chef cut teeth in Austin eateries, now ready to cut veggies

April 11th 12:04pm, 2013

In January, The Scoop reported that a vegetarian restaurant called Tree House was coming to South City. The restaurant, located at 3177 S. Grand Blvd., is expected to open sometime in May. While the interior is being readied using the talents of local design firm Space Architects and green build-supply company Mwanzi, The Scoop caught up with Tree House’s newly hired executive chef, John Intrieri.

Intrieri, an East Coast native who has also lived for a time in St. Louis, spent eight years cooking in Austin, Tex. His culinary circuit in the hipster Texas city include stints at: Contigo, where executive chef and co-owner Andrew Wiseheart was nominated this year for Food & Wine Magazine’s The People’s Best New Chef; Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar; Counter Cafe, a farm-to-table short-order eatery reputed for its burgers; French bistro Justine’s Brasserie; and East Side King, the Asian fusion food truck run by chef Paul Qui, winner of Top Chef Texas, and a 2012 James Beard Foundation Award winner in the Best Chef: Southwest category.

Intrieri returned to St. Louis last year and joins Tree House after having most recently worked in the kitchen at Oceano Bistro. At Tree House, Intrieri plans to draw on his exposure to a broad range of cuisines – including his own family’s roots in South America and Italy – in order to shine a spotlight on local produce.

“I want to show people what we can do with it,” Intrieri said. “I’ve worked in French, American, Pan-Asian. I like to show people not just one type of cuisine. Bay [Tree House owner Bay Tran] has a Vietnamese background. We’ll be playing with Asian food. We want to go with South American food, Italian.” He continued, “I’m trying not to go too far in any one direction. I want a simple menu. Most items on the menu will have very limited ingredients. Using local product, we can get a really good result with those simple ideas.”

The menu, divided into small and large plates, will be limited to approximately 15 to 20 items. Intrieri plans to swap a dish here and there with regularity to keep the menu seasonal. The Tree House menu has been designed with more than vegetarians in mind. Intrieri noted that it will be extremely vegan-friendly. “We’re trying to make it so you can have every single dish vegan if you so choose,” he said. His real hope, however, is to attract diners of all types: “I don’t want it to just feed vegetarians. I want people who like food to come and eat and see what the local food providers have to offer.”

The price point at this lunch and dinner spot will be “pretty cheap,” said Itrieri. “The great thing about vegetarian food is that you’re not paying all the extra for meat.” Look for most dishes to range between $6 and $15, and he added that the food will be, “really well thought out and plated cuisine.”

By Ligaya Figueras

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