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Jan 23, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Ben Grupe’

What I Do: Heidi Hamamura at Guerrilla Street Food

Monday, January 1st, 2018



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. 

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• Sauce Magazine: January 2018

The Scoop: Old Standard Fried Chicken to close

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016



Nearly two years after first flipping on the fryers, Old Standard Fried Chicken will shutter its doors after brunch service on Sunday, July 31. Owner Ben Poremba announced the closure today, July 26.

“It is a business decision,” Poremba said. “It wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do or fitting in with our general strategy.”

Poremba opened the fried chicken restaurant in Botanical Heights across the street from his two flagship restaurants, Elaia and Olio, in October 2014. Sauce reviewed the restaurant in March 2015.

Poremba, who also owns Parigi and co-owns La Patisserie Chouquette, said the space at 1621 Tower Grove Ave., will not sit idle long. He will announce a new concept, as well as any personnel changes or transitions, in the next week or so.

It’s been a busy year for Poremba. He opened his Italian concept, Parigi, in Clayton in February, and in June, he handed the executive chef role at Elaia and Olio to Ben Grupe in order to shift his focus from chef to restaurateur.


-photo by Michelle Volansky 



Extra Sauce: In case you missed it…

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

It’s been a busy week in the St. Louis food scene. Here’s what went down last week, in case you missed it…




1. Chef-owner Ben Poremba announced on June 7  that he has passed the toque at Elaia and Olio to Ben Grupe, who took over as executive chef of the Botanical Heights restaurants on June 1.

2. Tropical Liqueurs has found a new home for its grown-up boozy slushies at 4104 Manchester Ave., in The Grove, and the owners hope to have the lease signed shortly.




3. Trading breakfast for cocktails and light eats, Koplar Properties has opened Scapegoat Tavern & Courtyard at 52 Maryland Plaza.

4. The newest entrant in the Edwardsville food scene has taken up residence at 126 N. Main St. Foundry Public House opens Tuesday, June 14, in the former Robust Wine Bar space.




5. Tucked into a University City neighborhood, PerJax Americana Kitchen opened at 7401 Pershing Ave., in late May. PerJax’s Cajun- and Creole-inspired menu offers starters, salads, entrees and sandwiches with nods to both the surf and the turf.

6. Restaurateurs and brothers Derek and Lucas Gamlin announced that they will open a third establishment in the Central West End. While the name and exact concept are still being finalized, a lease has been signed for the space in the lower level of The Residences at the Forest Park Hotel, located at 4910 W. Pine Blvd.




7. Ballwin will get a taste of Eastern Europe when St. Louis Kolache opens at 14786 Manchester Road in early- to mid-July.

8. Take craft beer and a casual setting, put it in a chop house, and you have Cork & Barrel Chop House and Spirits. With the building at 7337 Mexico Road in St. Peters under construction, general manager Greg Tournillon hopes to open Cork & Barrel sometime this fall.


The Scoop: Ben Grupe named executive chef at Elaia and Olio

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016


{Ben Grupe, Elaia and Olio’s new executive chef}


Chef-owner Ben Poremba announced today, June 7, that he has passed the toque at Elaia and Olio to Ben Grupe, who took over as executive chef of the Botanical Heights restaurants on June 1. Poremba said he needed to shift his role from one of chef to one of restaurateur, and so he tapped Grupe, whom he knew professionally but began speaking with in earnest in the last few months.

“I have five restaurants and a 4-year-old and a newborn,” said Poremba, whose company Bengelina Hospitality Group also owns Old Standard Fried Chicken, La Patisserie Chouquette and recently opened Parigi. “My workload needed to change, but I wanted to make sure the new chef would uphold our standards, continue what I started and improve on it.”

Most recently, Grupe helmed the kitchen at Meadowbrook Country Club before he struck out on his own, hosting monthly pop-up dinners out of the space that formerly housed Stellina. His five-course meals focused on regional ingredients and flavors. He also serves as the team captain for the American Culinary Federation Culinary Olympic Team, which competes in October.




Poremba said Elaia and Olio’s menus will change regularly, as they did under Poremba, incorporating more and more of Grupe’s dishes. “He’s not making my food,” Poremba said. “He is introducing new techniques and ideas and making it his own. He’s paying attention to the progression and nuances of the meal.”

Don’t expect to find Poremba kicking back on his front porch in a rocking chair. Although the transition will allow him to spend more time with his family, he said he also looks forward to being more present in his other restaurants and focusing on other projects. “I’m looking forward to being seen in my other restaurants and going where I’m needed most,” Poremba said.

Grupe was not immediately available for comment.


-Olio photo by Carmen Troesser

The Scoop: The Stellar Hog to trot into South City

Friday, March 18th, 2016



After nearly three years at Adam’s Smokehouse apron, Alex Cupp is firing up his own pit, The Stellar Hog in the current Super’s Bungalow, as reported by the Riverfront Times. Cupp said he is in the process of buying the business at 5623 Leona St., and is currently helping to manage the bar. “I was just in the right place and this was the right time,” he said.

While he develops the menu and completes both cosmetic and systems renovations, Super’s Bungalow will remain open. Cupp hopes to unveil The Stellar Hog in June.

Having studied under barbecue legends Mike Emerson and Skip Steele of Pappy’s Smokehouse, Cupp looks to combine his pit experience with his earlier years in classical cooking to create a menu featuring traditional and nontraditional barbecue fare. Look for pork steaks along with chicken skin nachos and cassoulet with smoked meats. “Lunch will be more barbecue focused,” Cupp said. “Dinner will be certainly barbecue focused but fancied up a little bit.”

Cupp has been working with chef Ben Grupe on some menu items, as well as a side project called St. Louis Sammiches, a pop-up concept that will offer sandwiches at area farmers markets.


The Scoop: Chef Ben Grupe to launch year-long pop-up series in former Stellina space

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016




The kitchen had barely cooled since Stellina’s final service on New Year’s Eve before chef Ben Grupe stepped in and fired up the ranges. As The Scoop reported in December, Grupe announced that he would continue his pop-up dinner series at the Lindenwood Park space, located at 3342 Watson Road. Now, he’s released more details about his upcoming projects.

Grupe will host a year-long ticketed monthly dinner series beginning Jan. 29 and 30. Each dinner will feature a different five-course menu, and each course will be paired with a beer or cocktail. “I’ll be making food that I could rarely cook at my old job. I’m focused on making it casual, honest, contemporary and regional,” said Grupe, who most recently worked as executive chef at Meadowbrook Country Club in Ballwin.

Grupe’s regional fare will be sourced from several locations from the City Bitty Farm in Kansas City to Three Rivers Farm in Illinois. “Properly raised animals are key to this project. We’ll also can and ferment our own vegetables. Solid flavors are going to be our focus,” he said.

When not preparing for that month’s dinner, Grupe will be prepare his team for the American Culinary Federation Culinary Olympics in October. “My priority career-wise is my Olympic team,” said Grupe, who has served as Team USA’s captain since 2013. “This dinner series is my creative outlet. We’ll be hosting dinners based around the team’s schedule.”


The Scoop: Stellina announces closure at end of year

Friday, December 4th, 2015



{Stellina chef-owner Jamey Tochtrop}

After nine years in business, Stellina chef-owner Jamey Tochtrop announced today, Dec. 4, that he will serve his last plate of house-made pasta on Dec. 31.

“Stellina has come a long way from our humble beginning, and it’s my desire to go out at the top of our game,” Tochtrop said in a statement. “Full disclosures of my immediate plans are something I have chosen to keep rather close. Time with my family and loved ones, especially my son Harper, is the biggest reason for this decision. Other goals and new visions have moved to the forefront of my thoughts as well.”

While he did not elaborate on his future plans in the statement, Tochtrop said the kitchen’s burners would not grow cold. The space at 3342 Watson Road will be used for private parties and special events. Chief among these is the continuation of chef Ben Grupe’s dinner series, the next of which takes place Jan. 29 and 30.

“New dining trends will be explored as we look to create the most unique dining experience our city has to offer,” Tochtrop said in the statement. “These exclusive events will be fueled by hyper-local goods with an emphasis on urban farming and self-sustaining produce at the forefront of our venture.”

Grupe said the arrangement allows him to explore new ideas and introduce a ticketed dining system to St. Louis. “It’s a growing trend in the industry, and it’s a way for people to control budgets, labor, food cost and reservations,” Grupe said. “I thought this would be the best avenue to approach to interject this new concept.” The next installment of the dinner series takes place Jan. 29 and 30.

Tochtrop did not immediately return requests for comment.

Editor’s Note: This post was updated at 4:30 p.m. Dec. 4 with comments from Ben Grupe.  

-photo by Josh Monken 

The Scoop: Two STL chefs headed to culinary olympics

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

041310_ACFA Saucy congrats to St. Louis chefs Ben Grupe and Kevin Storm for making it to the Olympics – the culinary Olympics, that is. Grupe, currently sous chef at St. Louis Country Club, and Storm, executive chef at Bellerive Country Club since 1996, are among the six chefs named to the American Culinary Federation Culinary Team USA.

According to Grupe, the selection process began nearly a year ago, when some 50 chefs submitted their applications. A review process narrowed the pool down to 26, and the candidates were invited to participate in a cold-food competition in February. Based on the results of that round, 19 finalists qualified to participate in a hot-food competition held last weekend at Elgin Community College in Elgin, IL.

For the hot-food competition, each participant was allotted two and a half hours to prepare a seafood starter using Alaskan seafood and an entrée that featured veal, beef, lamb or pork. A panel of judges evaluated presentation and layout, composition and harmony of ingredients, correct preparation and craftsmanship, serving methods, and portions. Other evaluation criteria included each chef’s overall skill set, personality, attitude and ability to work as a member of a team.

Grupe, Storm and the rest of Culinary Team USA will represent the U.S. at the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg in November and at the International Culinary Art Exhibition, aka the culinary Olympics, that will take place in Erfurt, Germany in 2012.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Grupe. “It’s been my goal for the last three years.”

The rigor of the tryouts may have ended, but the team won’t have too much time to rest. According to Grupe, Team USA will be meeting at various Johnson & Wales University campuses throughout the U.S. in preparation for the fall showdown.

– Ligaya Figueras

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