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Jan 22, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Elaia’

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
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• The Story of Hama

• Sauce Magazine: January 2018

Ones to Watch 2017: Jen Epley of Vicia

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Title: Assistant general manager, Vicia
Age: 31
Why watch her: She knows what you need before you do.

Jen Epley has her eye on you. Where did you sit, what did you order and what was your favorite dish? If you don’t like cilantro, you won’t see it – now or the next time you dine with her.

For Epley, successful service means everything appears effortless. Wine keys, pens, lighters and birthday candles are accounted for before the night begins. Guests are greeted warmly, treated with friendly respect and watched carefully from the moment they’re seated until the last glass of wine is consumed.

“You have to know something about them. They are there for that experience of connecting with the food, the servers, the beverages. They want to feel everything that you put into that restaurant,” Epley said. “You have to be part of it. … If you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be there because that resonates with all the guests that walk in.”

This is something she’s learned from hospitality pros in some of the best restaurants in the city, starting at Five Bistro five years ago.

“She’s really one of the unsung heroes of service in St. Louis,” said advanced sommelier Andrey Ivanov. He trained Epley on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern wine when they worked at Olio and Elaia. “She’s so technically sound that she can do everything better than most people on autopilot, and meanwhile … look around the room and anticipate what’s next.”

“So many people treat serving as ‘Same job, different apron,’” said Sardella general manager Chris Kelling, who worked with Epley at Niche. “She has goals to ascend in the industry and be amongst the best. That is something I’ve only recently seen in St. Louis, that people are taking hospitality as a career.”

It seems only natural that Epley’s next step is to help open Vicia under co-owner and general manager Tara Gallina, who was service captain at Blue Hill at Stone Barns – a restaurant lauded as much for service as culinary talent. Before a recent wine tasting meeting, Epley pulled out a tote bag filled with polished stemware and ever-present spiral-bound notebooks.

“When I write things down, it’s easier to remember than typing,” she explained, rifling through pages filled with impeccably written wine tasting notes and potential front-of-house hires. Epley loves the puzzle of it all, carefully sorting each detail into its proper column. “It’s a fun game of Tetris,” she said.

“She’s always two steps ahead, which is what you have to be, and seeing the big picture at all times,” Gallina said. “She really just gets it.”

Photo by Carmen Troesser

The Scoop: Ben Poremba to open Mexican restaurant, Nixta, in former Old Standard space

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

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Three months after closing Old Standard Fried Chicken, Ben Poremba has a new concept ready to debut: Nixta, a Mexican restaurant at 1621 Tower Grove Ave. A soft opening is slated for Nov. 11. “I’ve opened many restaurants in the past five years,” Poremba said. “This one is as exciting as Olio.”

Don’t expect endless bowls of chips and salsa or a long list of tacos. Nixta’s menu will focus on the complex styles and techniques found in traditional Mexican cooking. “It’s a Mexican restaurant, but not in the traditional American sense of the word,” Poremba said. “It’s mostly inspired by street food, but it’s also inspired by my partner chef Tello Carreon’s grandmother’s cooking.”

Carreon spent the past two years as chef de cuisine at Elaia, and the previous year and a half between Elaia and Olio’s kitchens. “Tello appeals to me. I’ve been working side by side with him. We’ve been toying with ideas to showcase his cuisine,” Poremba said.

Dishes will also see some South American and Spanish influences, which Poremba said run parallel to the Mediterranean and North African influences he’s known for at Olio. Dishes include pepita guacamole, grilled octopus with mole, roasted pork shoulder, braised beef cheek mole and more. The bar program will focus on pisco drinks.

 

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{Bengelina Hospitality Group owner Ben Poremba}

 

The Mexican restaurant is only one project in the works for Bengelina Hospitality Group, which has had an eventful year. In June, Poremba passed the top toque of Elaia and Olio to chef Ben Grupe, shifting his focus to that of restaurateur for the group’s Botanical Heights establishments and newest restaurant, Parigi in Clayton.

Now more details have emerged about Poremba’s Jewish deli project, which The Scoop reported in June 2015. AO&CO is slated to open next year, in a location yet to be determined (Clayton, the Central West End and University City are all contenders, Poremba said.), but customers can get a sneak peek of what’s to come at brunch popups beginning next month at Parigi.

Poremba said he wants to bring a contemporary Jewish deli to the St. Louis area in the vein of Russ & Daughters Cafe. To that end, menu items for the first popup include house-made bagels, cured fish, chicken soup, beef tongue tartine and other traditional deli items with a Poremba twist. “I want to make it feel sort of traditional and true to the spirit of a Jewish deli,” he said.

Though the first popup on Nov. 20 has already sold out, Poremba said there will be some walk-in seating available, and he hopes to host the next at the beginning of December.

 

The Scoop: Old Standard Fried Chicken to close

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

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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…

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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{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.

 

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{Olio}

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: 5 STL-area chefs, The Side Project Cellar, Stone Soup Cottage all earn JBFA nods

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

 

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{Mike Randolph}

 

The James Beard Foundation announced its 2016 restaurant and chef award semifinalists today, Feb. 17. Once again, St. Louis is well represented among this year’s picks for the esteemed culinary awards.

Among the national categories, chef-owner Mike Randolph’s Público was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. This category recognizes a restaurant that “already displays excellence in food, beverage, and service, and that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come.”

“It means the world,” Randolph said. “I’ve had the concept in my head for years. From the day we opened we knew exactly what we were and haven’t deviated from it. Our vision has been well received and people are excited about it. To be judged by people you really care about is pretty cool.”

Along with three other St. Louis-area chefs, Randolph was also named a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Midwest category. This is the first time Randolph was recognized by the James Beard Foundation.

“It’s humbling for sure, but I’m on the shoulders of the people I’ve had a chance to work with,” Randolph said. “It’s a testament to the crew.”

Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. chef-owner Kevin Nashan, Farmhaus chef-owner Kevin Willmann, and Elaia and Olio chef-owner Ben Poremba were also named semifinalists for Best Chef: Midwest. All three have previously made this prestigious shortlist.

Nashan said he feels honored that he and his team have been acknowledged once again. “I’m always grateful to be on the bus. We work hard. Not necessarily for this, but it feels great and it’s great for the team and great for this town. Hooray for St. Louis.”

“It’s a very big honor,” Poremba said. “It’s reaffirmation that my team and I are doing something right and on the right path.”

Poremba went on to comment on other area nominees. “It’s nice to see new inclusions to the list. There are people who are a big force in this town and contribute a lot to the scene, new semi-finalists and veterans. I’m stoked for Stone Soup Cottage and for Público. (Best New Restaurant) is a hard one to get.”

Willmann likewise said the JBFA nod was an honor and validation for his Farmhaus team.  “It’s always special to have our little mom-and pop restaurant recognized,” Willmann said. “We talk about being perfect and even though we can’t be perfect, we don’t take anything for granted. If something’s not right, we don’t sell it. It’s about doing our best every day.”

Across the river, chef and co-owner Ed Heath was named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes for the second time in two years. “It’s super unreal,” he said. “I was 100-percent certain that it wasn’t gonna happen again. This morning, I didn’t even look.”

 

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{The Side Project Cellar team. From left, Katie Herrera, Shae Smith, Chris Hoertel and co-owner Karen King}

 

Also in the national categories, The Side Project Cellar in Maplewood was named a semifinalist in the Outstanding Bar Program category, which honors restaurants or bars that demonstrate excellence in cocktail, spirits and/or beer service. Side Project co-owner Karen King learned of the nomination when Sauce called for comment.

“Every year those come out and it’s always the best chefs in the freaking in world,” King said. “So we’re excited, I know that!”

Co-owner Cory King said he was thrilled to hear that Karen King’s hard work at The Cellar has been recognized. “It’s really mostly her,” he said. “She’s the one who operates this thing day-to-day.”

 

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{Carl and Nancy McConnell}

 

St. Louis-area service was also recognized at Cottleville’s Stone Soup Cottage, named a semifinalist for Outstanding Service as a restaurant open “five or more years that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service.”

Co-owner Nancy McConnell said she and co-owner and chef Carl McConnell were shocked at the news. “We are on Cloud 9,” she said, stressing the importance of having their entire team recognized for their service efforts. “We are so humbled and just numb.”

This is the first James Beard Foundation Award nods for The Side Project Cellar and Stone Soup Cottage.

Finalists will be announced March 15; the James Beard Foundation Awards take place May 2 in Chicago.  A full list of semifinalists is available here.

Catherine Klene and Kristin Schultz contributed to this report. 

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 12:15 p.m. Feb. 17 to include comment from Kevin Willmann. 

-Mike Randolph photo by Greg Rannells, all other photos by Carmen Troesser

 

The Scoop: Josh Charles is named executive chef at Element

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

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{From left, Josh Charles and fellow Ones to Watch alum John Fausz}

Area rising star Josh Charles has just landed his first exec chef gig. Beginning Sept. 1, Charles will helm the kitchen at Element.

For the last three years, Charles, a member of the Sauce Ones to Watch class of 2014, has worked at restaurateur Ben Poremba’s Elaia, where he quickly climbed from garde manger to chef de cuisine. Charles announced he planned to leave Poremba’s restaurant group earlier this month, but his next move had not been determined.

“(Element) owners Carol and Stacy Hastie had seen that I didn’t have a landing zone yet. They called. We sat down and talked about it. It seemed like a good fit,” Charles said. He was impressed by the restaurant’s design, and as an avid rock climber, he appreciated the restaurant’s close proximity to Climb So Ill, a climbing facility in the same building.

Charles said he will have full autonomy in the kitchen, unlike when Element first opened in fall 2013 and multiple chefs collaborated. “They are leaving it in my hands to decide the menu,” he said. “I’ll still do comfort food, but expand on it a bit. I want to use the flavors from across the world to really define comfort food.”

Look for a new dinner menu to launch the second week of September and a revamped lunch menu to follow soon after. Charles also anticipates adding a separate bar menu.

Element co-owner Carol Hastie was not immediately available for comment.

-photo by Carmen Troesser

 

 

Drink This Weekend Edition: A taste of the Big Apple – and home

Friday, August 14th, 2015

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I just returned from a trip to New York City, a place I love for its crazy crowds, the rattle of the subway and really good bagels. I also had the chance to compare our wine scene to this bustling city and came away with a few observations:

1. St. Louis is home to more wine and spirits talent per capita. Our wine pros take training and certification very seriously, and they work very hard to earn titles. In my opinion, NYC has a lot of wine talent, yet some do not work toward certification as diligently as our hometown team.

2. NYC is home to more products. Every importer has a presence, and you can get pretty much any wine you desire (though it often costs more). While St. Louis has access to a lot of wine, I think we lack options when it comes to sherry, organic and kosher choices.

3. New York City has some amazing wine lists, especially in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, though STL is rapidly stepping up its game. Places like Elaia, Olio, Bar Italia and Bar Les Freres all pour some phenomenal wines (and I’ve got my eye on Reeds American Table, which has sommelier Andrey Ivanov overseeing the wine list). My wish: I’d love to see a wine bar like The Ten Bells in St. Louis – a loud, rambunctious atmosphere serving only hardcore natural wines and basic bar snacks.

Here, my two picks for this weekend – one from New York and the other, a hometown spirit:

2013 Fox Run Dry Riesling
This wine from New York’s Finger Lakes region is crisp and beautifully aromatic with notes of crushed lemon, apricot and stone. $20, available at Starrs

Lion’s Tooth Dandelion Liqueur
This local liqueur makes for incredible spritzes. Mix 1 ounce Lion’s Tooth with 2 ounces cranberry juice and 2 ounces seltzer, then pour over ice. $30, available at The Wine and Cheese Place

 

The Scoop: Josh Charles to leave Elaia, Bengelina Hospitality Group

Monday, August 10th, 2015

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{From left, Josh Charles and John Fausz}

After three years at Ben Poremba’s Elaia, chef de cuisine Josh Charles is leaving the Tower Grove restaurant and its parent group, Bengelina. Charles said he is looking at “a couple of opportunities” in the St. Louis area and expects to make a decision in the next few weeks. He is no longer slated to take the helm at Parigi, Poremba’s Italian eatery scheduled to open in Clayton in November.

Both Charles and Poremba said the departure was amicable. “I learned an amazing amount and am grateful for what Ben did,” Charles said. “I’m looking to go to the next level and learn even more.”

Charles started as the salad chef at Elaia and was promoted to chef de cuisine within months. He and former bar manager John Fausz are members of the Sauce Ones to Watch class of 2014.

“He is a great guy and a great cook,” Poremba said. “He has been like a little brother to me and has done an incredible job.” He is currently conducting a search for Charles’ replacement.

-photo by Carmen Troesser 

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