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Nov 30, 2015
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Posts Tagged ‘Gerard Craft’

Cooking the Classics: Mashed Potatoes

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015



Nothing says love like a big bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy. Every family has its favorite rendition of this classic dish, and even the pros disagree about some things. Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. and Sidney Street Cafe, prefers a rough mash of partially peeled, small red potatoes or fingerlings. Gerard Craft, chef-owner of Niche Food Group, goes for a smooth puree of russet potatoes. Nashan seasons his water; Craft doesn’t. But lumpy or whipped, fingerlings or russets, milk or cream, there are some things all good mashers can agree upon. Here, 6 steps to the perfect mash.

1. Cut about 3 pounds potatoes (such as russet, fingerling or small red potatoes) into equal 1½ – to 2-inch cubes.

2. Place those spuds in a very large pot of cold water and give them room to dance with 1 inch of water above them. Set the pot over medium-high heat.

3. Put a fork in it. Three pounds of potatoes cooked over medium-high take about 30 to 35 minutes. When a fork goes in easily or breaks the potato, drain immediately. If the potatoes fight back, continue to cook, checking every 5 minutes. Pay attention: Overcooked potatoes make a soupy mash.

4. Burn calories while you mash. The paddle attachment on a stand mixer works, but it is easy to go from perfection to glue when using appliances. Keep it old-school with a wire masher and leave some lumps, if you’re into that. If you like a silky-smooth texture, use a potato ricer.

5. Use about 1 stick melted butter and ½ cup milk, half-and-half or cream for every 3 pounds potatoes. Always warm the butter and liquid before adding them.

6. Don’t be bland. Add salt and white pepper to taste – start with 1 teaspoon salt and a couple grinds of pepper and go from there. Other additions may include roasted garlic, creme fraiche or sour cream and, of course, cheese. Try mascarpone, goat cheese, cheddar or Parmesan. You can also add a little chicken or beef stock diluted in warm milk.

Pro tip: Making your potatoes ahead of time? Hold them up to 4 hours in a slow cooker on low. Pour 2 tablespoons melted butter and ¼ cup warm milk into the slow cooker insert before adding the mashed potatoes, then cover. Stir well before serving.

-photo by Greg Rannells

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open second Pastaria in Nashville

Friday, November 6th, 2015



Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft announced today, Nov. 6, that he will open a second location of his Italian eatery Pastaria in Nashville in summer 2016. This will be Craft’s sixth restaurant and his first outside of the St. Louis area.

Craft said he has been looking for the right expansion opportunity for two years. “Our company is growing, and it’s been ready to expand, but we want to make sure we’re taking the right steps and growing with the right people,” he said. “We’re been spending a little more time (in Nashville) … and (the west end) seems like an area that had a lot of potential.”

Craft is dispatching St. Louis talent to helm the Nashville kitchen; Josh Poletti will take on the role of executive chef. Poletti was a member of the Sauce Ones to Watch class of 2014 and joined the Niche Food Group team earlier this year.

The Nashville location at 8 C1TY Blvd., will feature a similar menu of house-made fresh pastas, sauces and wood-fired pizzas as the Clayton location. Grab-and-go options like jarred sauce, gelato and dried pasta will also be available.

At home in The Lou, the James Beard Award-winning chef is putting the finishing touches on Porano, his fast-casual Italian concept set to open downtown at 634 Washington Ave. Craft said he hopes to host a soft open for that restaurant in late November or early December.


-photo by Ashley Gieseking


Better Than Nonna’s: Chef secrets for the perfect plate of pasta

Friday, September 25th, 2015



{Spaghetti with Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Shrimp and Arugula} 


A beautiful plate of pasta is nothing short of enchanting – rich aromas, nuanced flavors and the painstaking presentation of the professional chef. It’s easy to boil a pot of noodles, but turning strands of wet spaghetti into a Michelin-starred dish can be a tall order for the home cook. Here, area chefs share their better-than-Nonna’s recipes and secrets for everything you need (Pro tip No. 1: Start with fresh pasta.) to take your pasta from basic to bellissima. Get the recipes for:


-photo by Greg Rannells

The Scoop: Michael David Murphy named beverage director at Bar Italia

Friday, August 28th, 2015



On the heels of Brandon Kerne’s departure, Bar Italia has found a replacement for its now-vacant beverage directorship: Michael David Murphy, who oversaw the beverage program at Gerard Craft’s empire of restaurants, will fill Kerne’s shoes beginning this week.

“This is a really exciting opportunity,” Murphy said, citing the more than 600 bottles now amassed in Bar Italia’s wine library. “The cellar runs deep. There’s not many places in St. Louis that you can go to have wine that is correctly aged and served in its prime for $60 to $70.”

Since April 2014, Murphy worked for Robust Wine Bar, following stints as wine director and, later, beverage director for the Craft Restaurant Group from 2010 to 2011 and 2012 to 2013. In between, he was a wine manager for a distributor in Kansas City. Under Murphy’s watch, Craft’s Niche earned a spot among Wine Enthusiast’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants in 2013. He will continue to flex his sommelier muscles in his position at Bar Italia.

“This really is, from a sommelier’s perspective, a dream. Brandon did a phenomenal job elevating this into a prestigious program,” Murphy said. He plans to broaden the regional representation of the wine list and continue to evolve the 30-year-old restaurant’s monthly wine dinner program. Yet for the most part, he said, he just wants to keep an already flourishing program going strong.

Mengesha Yohannes, co-owner of Bar Italia, said Murphy’s laidback approach to beverage service differs from Kerne’s, but is no less apt. “He’s very quiet, but there’s a lot of substance,” Yohannes said. “Every time I have a chat with him, I’m always surprised, the hidden passions boiling under the surface. He’s very, very engaging and has a deep passion that comes out in surprising ways. More of a Zen master approach.”

Kerne, who worked with Murphy for several months before his departure to facilitate the transition, was equally enthusiastic. “I cannot recommend (Michael) enough as a professional,” Kerne said. “He is undoubtedly one of the top talents in the city.”





Readers’ Choice 2015: Chef of the Year – Gerard Craft

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015



You know a meal is special when you can recall it in vivid detail years, even decades, later. Epicures have traveled from far and near to visit Gerard Craft’s flagship restaurant, Niche, and have departed with memories of exquisitely plated, creative dishes. Craft’s own dining experiences likewise have left an indelible mark on his culinary mind. Here, this year’s Readers’ Choice Chef of the Year – and winner of the 2015 James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Midwest – shares the top meals of his life.  

1. The French Laundry, Yountville, California, 2002
“That meal was mind-blowing on every level, especially because I had experienced a lot at that point but nothing unique. I’d been sleeping with The French Laundry Cookbook pretty much at that point. It was a big deal to see it all. The wine service was Bobby Stuckey (now co-owner of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado) as a youngster. My dad still talks about the wine service to this day and how amazingly inspired it was. (We started) with five different soups, each one the essence of whatever that ingredient was. (I had) dishes that are now iconic, like the salmon cornet – the ice cream cone, the oysters and pearls … just mind-blowing and fun. Grant Achatz was a sous chef. It was kind of like a dream team in that restaurant.”

2. Le Bamboche, Paris, France, 2000
“It was during the mad cow crisis. Lots of vegetables because nobody was cooking meat at that point. La Bamboche was a tiny little spot, maybe 20 seats. The chef was Claude Colliot. It was him in the kitchen with one other guy and his wife ran the front of the house. It was the first time I saw traditional rules broken. There was a dish of glazed Loire Valley vegetables with fromage blanc ice cream, a savory ice cream. I was blown away. Now, everyone sees ice cream on dishes. Back then, no one had ice cream on dishes. On the dessert side, he had a Napoleon with pastry cream on one layer, a kind of candied confit tomato on another layer and then basil simple syrup. Again, this notion of the rules had been broken: savory food being used in dessert. That meal alone shaped my career and the way I would look at food from then on.”

3. L’Arpège, Paris, France, 2000
“This place was – and still is – a three-star Michelin restaurant. My parents took me there and said, ‘Pay attention. This is your Harvard education.’ It was a spectacular meal, tons of vegetables. I don’t know if I was necessarily blown out of the water. It was just vegetables and light flavors and very good. What I did notice later on as I was cooking was: This green bean is not cooked right; this turnip’s texture could be much better. Every vegetable in that place was so perfectly cooked. When it comes to vegetables, that completely changed my life. I am so picky with our cooks about how they cook vegetables. That stems from this restaurant.”

4. Trattoria del Conte, Orvieto, Italy, 2006
“Our very good friends, Margaret and Carlo Pfeiffer, took me to this place. It was their favorite local restaurant to eat dinner. It’s pretty much a father and his daughters who run this place. They make really casual pastas, all fresh, hand-made. One of my favorite dishes that I still love to make is a ricotta tortelloni with artichokes, lemon and olive oil – an incredibly simple dish, but perfect. The whole thing, the ragus they do, everything made me fall in love with Italian food. That wasn’t my first trip to Italy, but it was a transformative trip for me.”

-illustrations by Vidhya Nagarajan

The Scoop: Gerard Craft wins James Beard award

Monday, May 4th, 2015



Rejoice, St. Louis! Gerard Craft has landed his first James Beard Foundation award. Craft was named Best Chef: Midwest today at a gala ceremony in Chicago. This marks the first time a St. Louis chef has landed a James Beard award, the culinary world’s preeminent honor. Craft is the chef-owner of Niche, Pastaria, Taste and Brasserie, and a six-time finalist for a Beard award.

The Best Chef category recognizes chefs who have “set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions,” according to the Foundation’s website. Candidates may be from any type of dining establishment and must have worked as a chef for at least five years, with the three most recent years in their region. The Midwest includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Vying with Craft for the title in that category were: Paul Berglund of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis; Justin Carlisle of Ardent in Milwaukee; Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart in Minneapolis; and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Scoop: Adam Altnether parts ways with Niche Food Group

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015


{Adam Altnether}


Adam Altnether has left the Niche family of restaurants. According to majority owner chef Gerard Craft, Altnether is no longer a shareholder in the restaurant group, which includes Niche, Taste, Brasserie, Pastaria and soon-to-open Porano. He sold his minority shares in the restaurants back to Craft at the end of March, positing Craft as the majority owner of the company.

“Adam has been a part of the team for over seven years, and we are proud of the work that we were able to accomplish together within that time,” Craft said. “We’re excited to see what’s next for him.”

Altnether’s departure brings to an end nearly decade-long tenure with Craft. Altnether began working at Niche in 2007. This member of the Sauce Ones to Watch class of 2009 quickly rose through the ranks at Niche and became Craft’s business partner in late 2010.

Altnether said after nearly eight years working with Craft, the two saw the elements of the restaurant group going in different directions. “I’m super lucky to have done what I did with Gerard, and I’m very grateful for everything we were able to accomplish … but sometimes it’s time to break out and start something new,” he said.

Though he’s not yet certain what that something is, Altnether said he plans to stay active in the St. Louis food scene and that his time in Craft’s kitchens and as his business partner has prepared him for almost anything. “We’ve almost seen it all,” he said. “You get to see a lot of interesting things, and it makes a lot of fun and unforgettable memories.”

Craft said Pastaria executive chef Michael Petres will take on the role of corporate executive chef, focusing on kitchen operations at Pastaria and Porano, his fast-casual pasta concept slated to open downtown this summer. Pastaria chef de cuisine Ashley Shelton will transition into the exec chef role at that restaurant.



{Gerard Craft}

The top toques at Craft’s other restaurants remain the same: Nate Hereford helming Niche, Nick Blue heading the brigade at Brasserie and Heather Stone commanding at Taste. Stone assumed that position in January upon the departure of Matt Daughaday, whose first venture into chef-ownership will begin in a matter of months when his Reeds American Kitchen opens.

The news of Altnether’s leaving comes with the announcement that Niche is seeing changes at the front of the house. Christopher Kelling was hired as general manager. Kelling, former GM at Niche, will begin walking the floor at the Clayton fine dining restaurant, while current GM Matt McGuire has been named director of service for Niche Food Group. Kelling left Niche for his most recent position as dining room manager at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, California.


Editor’s note: This post was updated March 31 at 11:30 a.m. to include comments from Adam Altnether. Also, the original post stated that Gerard Craft is the sole owner of Niche Food Group.

Catherine Klene contributed to this report.

The Scoop: Gerard Craft named JBFA finalist for Best Chef: Midwest

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015



Finalists for the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards were announced today, March 24, and one St. Louis-area chef remains in the running. Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants, made the short list in the Best Chef: Midwest category. Craft was also among last year’s finalists in that category. “I think it’s a great testament to our team, that 10 years in, we are still part of the conversation,” Craft said. “To be included with that group of people is such an honor.”

St. Louis chefs who did not get past the semifinal round in the Best Chef: Midwest category are Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus; Ben Poremba, chef-owner of Elaia, Olio and Old Standard Fried Chicken; and Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker. Ed Heath, chef and co-owner of Cleveland-Heath, was also in contention for the title of Best Chef: Great Lakes. Heath was a first-time JBFA semifinalist.

Among national awards, Annie Gunn’s was one of 20 restaurants named semifinalists in the Outstanding Wine Program category. The estimable fine-dining institution did not advance to the final round.

Winners of the chef and restaurant awards will be announced at a ceremony in Chicago May 4. A full list of nominees is available here.


Editor’s Note: This post was updated March 24 at 10:15 a.m. to include a quote from Gerard Craft.

The Scoop: 5 St. Louis-area chefs, Annie Gunn’s wine program named 2015 JBFA semifinalists

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015



{Clockwise from top left, James Beard Foundation Awards 2015 semifinalists chefs Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan, Annie Gunn’s wine director Glenn Bardgett, chefs Ben Poremba, Ed Heath and Kevin Willmann}


The James Beard Foundation has announced its 2015 restaurant and chef award semifinalists. St. Louis is again represented among this year’s nominees for the organization’s annual esteemed culinary awards.

In a national category, Anne Gunn’s Smokehouse was nominated for Outstanding Wine Program. “It’s just an honor that someone’s recognizing us on a national level,” said Glenn Bardgett, Annie Gunn’s wine director. “We’re not a flyover city anymore. What an honor. The first time this happened for me in 2011. It was the only time in Missouri that anybody was nominated for wine. Lightning struck twice.” Bardgett, who is also a Sauce wine columnist, was a semifinalist in the Outstanding Wine Service category in 2011.

In the category of Best Chef: Midwest, four area chefs made the list: Gerard Craft, chef-owner of the Niche family of restaurants; Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.; Kevin Willmann, chef-owner of Farmhaus; and Ben Poremba, chef-owner of Elaia, Olio and Old Standard Fried Chicken. “I’m so grateful to be on the bus,” Nashan said. “It’s so cool. Yeah for The Lou!”

Ed Heath of Cleveland-Heath was nominated for Best Chef: Great Lakes. This is Heath’s first time on the semifinalist list. He found out about his nomination when The Scoop called for comment: “Holy shit!” he said. “(Co-owner Jenny Cleveland) and I were certain we’d close in six months after we opened. Everything has been an awesome surprise … Everyone that has (worked here) has helped shape it.”

Nashan, Craft, Willmann and Poremba have all previously garnered James Beard Foundation award nominations. Last year, St. Louis saw five chefs (Gerard Craft, Josh Galliano, Kevin Nashan, Ben Poremba and Kevin Willmann) on the semifinalist list, with Craft and Nashan moving on as finalists. “I’m super humbled to be on a pretty amazing list,” Craft said. “(It’s) an honor to be included with all those guys … St. Louis’ dining scene, especially in the past few years, is amazingly strong. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Willmann said the list reflected St. Louis’ diverse dining scene. “It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “There’s so many new and talented people in this town.”

Poremba also found out about his nomination from The Scoop. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Poremba said. “That’s just awesome!”

Finalists for the 2015 awards will be announced March 24, with the winners announced at a gala ceremony in Chicago May 4.

See a full list of restaurant and chef semifinalists here.

Ligaya Figueras, Catherine Klene, Garrett Faulkner and Meera Nagarajan contributed to this report.

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to open fifth restaurant downtown

Saturday, February 7th, 2015



One of St. Louis’ preeminent chefs is adding another restaurant to his empire. Porano Pasta + Gelato will be Gerard Craft’s first fast-casual establishment located downtown in the Mercantile Exchange at 634 Washington Ave. Doors are set to open mid- to late summer.

Craft, who also owns Niche, Brasserie, Pastaria and Taste, is a five-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef: Midwest. Though the concept is Italian, Craft said he didn’t want to open a second Pastaria. Instead, he wanted to focus on fast, affordable, real food. “For us as a family, we end up going to places like Chipotle a lot because they are really convenient, quick, they stand behind their product as far as ingredients go, and it’s really inexpensive to feed a family of four,” he said. “Increasingly, that becomes more important to me.”

At Porano, customers will build their own pasta bowls or other entrees by choosing from bases such as organic pasta, farro, focaccia or lettuce. They can then add proteins like braised beef, meatballs, tofu and more before topping their creations with an assortment of sauces and other accoutrements to suit their tastes. Pastaria fans will find their favorite gelatos available in cups and as cookie sandwiches at the new downtown location.

Craft said Pastaria executive chef Michael Petres will oversee the kitchen at Porano, while sous chef Ashley Simon will step up to chef de cuisine to direct daily operations at Pastaria.

Porano is named after a small town in Umbria, Italy, where Craft said he encountered a warm, welcoming community. He hopes to bring that hospitality to his new concept, which takes up residence in the former Takaya New Asian spot. “I’m a big, big supporter of downtown. I think its one of our most important spots,” Craft said. “(People) want to see a thriving vibrant downtown … This is the first time that we’ve had the location that we want available. It just made perfect sense.”

Craft said he looked forward to joining the ranks of Robust and Pi Pizzeria, which have also opened successful locations in the downtown MX area. “We’re building on what they’ve already started,” he said.

 -photo by Carmen Troesser



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