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Posts Tagged ‘Gerard Craft’

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

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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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

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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

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{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.

 

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{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

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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

 

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{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

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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

 

 

The Scoop: Chef Matt Daughaday to leave Taste, Heather Stone will step up

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

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{From left, Matt Daughaday and Heather Stone}

Editor’s Note: This Scoop has been updated to include comments from Matt Daughaday.

There’s a change in the top toque at Taste. Executive chef Matt Daughaday is leaving the cocktail bar and lounge at 4584 Laclede Ave., in the Central West End to open his own restaurant, as reported by Feast. Daughaday’s replacement is Heather Stone, who will step up from her current position as the restaurant’s sous chef.

While the news may come as a surprise to some, owner Gerard Craft and the team at Taste have had months to plan for the transition, which will officially occur Jan. 1.

“This has been a few month’s now that we’ve been working on the transition, so it’s not like a sudden departure,” said Craft, who added that he and Daughaday have been talking about his potential departure for the past year. “I said, ‘If there’s a time you want to go, tell me. I’ll help you in any way possible.’ He’s given a chunk of his life to the Craft team in multiple ways. We’re excited for him. I find it extremely exciting to have a young chef find his voice. That’s awesome. It doesn’t happen all the time.” Daughaday, a member of Sauce’s Ones to Watch class of 2013, has worked for the Craft family of restaurants for more than five years.

Daughaday said the transition to leave Taste is the first step toward opening his own restaurant in the course of a year. He is currently looking for a location, possible in the St. Louis Hills area, and considering concept options. If all goes according to plan, Daughaday said he could open doors as early as August 2015.

Daughaday said he learned valuable lessons under Craft’s guidance, including keeping both customers and employees happy. “Watching his growth and how he’s had to deal with a staff of maybe 20 people to over 100 … It’s a difficult thing, and I think he’s done a really good job with that,” he said. “It’s why I stayed with him for six-and-a-half years.”

Stone came aboard Taste two years ago, having previously worked at One Sixtyblue in Chicago. “I think Heather’s style fits into what we’re doing,” he said. “Heather is very farm-to-table and very ingredient-driven, so if nobody’s noticed a difference now, they won’t notice a difference then. Her food is phenomenal.” Craft said Stone created more than half of the dishes on the current Taste menu. “The team at Taste loves her,” Craft said. “She’s a great presence, a great leader. She brings a lot to the table, more so than just the food.”

Daughaday said he was more than confident in Stone’s ability to run Taste’s kitchen. “There’s no way I could have left taste unless I thought there was someone who could do a job equal to what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I definitely think she has that potential. In my eyes and Gerard’s, she’s more than capable of stepping up.”

 

-photo courtesy @chefh88 Instagram

Raise your voice: Nominations open for James Beard Awards

Friday, October 17th, 2014

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Calling all opinionated St. Louis foodies! The prestigious James Beard Foundation has put out a call to the public, requesting nominations for its annual awards. Here’s your chance to call out your favorite chef and restaurant. Click here to register and nominate. Don’t delay – submit your culinary nods before Dec. 31, 2014.

St. Louis is no stranger to the James Beard Foundation. In fact at this very moment, St. Louis is heating up the kitchens at the James Beard House in New York City. The Libertine executive chef and co-owner Josh Galliano cooks there tonight, Oct. 17. Though you can’t grab a seat at that esteemed table tonight, you can pull up a seat at The Libertine bar starting at 5 p.m. for a special happy hour where guests can watch Galliano in action on a live-stream from the James Beard kitchens.

St. Louis made waves on the JBFA stage earlier this year, too. Kevin Nashan, chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe and the newly opened Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., and Gerard Craft, chef-owner of Niche Food Group (including Niche, Pastaria, Taste and Brasserie) were both finalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category.

 

 

 

The Scoop: Niche Food Group taps Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman to head its beverage programs

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

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Gerard Craft, owner of Niche Food Group and five-time James Beard award nominee, has enlisted new talent to direct the bar and wine programs at his four St. Louis restaurants. The Niche Food Group announced that Chicago sommelier Aaron Sherman has joined its team as beverage director for Niche, Taste by Niche, Pastaria and Brasserie by Niche. Sherman previously held positions as the sommelier at Stephanie Izard’s acclaimed Girl & The Goat, and wine steward at the former Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago, where he served as right hand to wine director Michael Muser.

“He’s just a super sharp guy,” Craft said. “That’s the first and foremost is that he’s an amazing human being. Very smart, very well spoken, definitely understands hospitality.” Craft said he met Sherman by happenstance at Pastaria earlier this year, where the sommelier and his wife were dining. After discovering they had mutual industry connections, Craft quickly created a position for the Sherman. “If somebody great crosses our path, we’re going to try and make room,” he said.

Coincidentally, Sherman was already in process of relocating to St. Louis. His wife Jelena Dirks, a classical musician, had recently accepted a position with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

The serendipitous timing was a boon to Matt McGuire, director of service for Niche Food Group, who has been juggling the management of all four restaurants’ beverage programs. “We’re really excited,” he said. “The timing of him coming to St. Louis and our need … I feel very fortunate to have him.”

Sherman took the helm of the Niche Food Group’s wine lists last week, and he aims to begin new scheduling for its varied beverage programs. The wine, beer and cocktail lists will be tailored to further reflect and complement the restaurants’ food menus, though Sherman was quick to stress that established programs, such as the cocktail menu at Taste, won’t be changed significantly.

“My goal is to make sure the whole package is at the right level of consistency,” Sherman said. “I don’t need to be cowboy: walk in, guns blazing and change the world. There’s nothing broken with the programs as they are. But when you start looking at the fine details you ask: What is good? What can be made better?”

Such improvements will largely be made to the wine lists, Sherman said, adding that he’s made an effort to acclimate himself before making any substantial modifications. “I have to flirt with the city a bit,” he said. “I have to get to know the people who are here. I don’t ever want them to walk in and have them say, ‘Oh, this is a Chicago list, just in St. Louis.’ ”

Though Sherman also began his career as a classical musician, he quickly pivoted to the food service industry and enjoyed a meteoric rise to sommelier positions in Chicago’s top restaurants.

“I had some incredible mentors, people who really helped me gain a great foundation,” he said. “Part of what I think I bring is a history of leading and guiding and education. I came to the restaurant industry sideways. (But) I understand how to communicate and talk about wine in a language people understand. When I’m on the floor, I don’t usually talk about the soil structure. I talk about cars and movies.”

Sherman also boasts a strong technical background in wine lore. He holds a diploma from the International Sommelier Guild and is a certified sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers. “My philosophy is that there’s amazing wine to be had at $30 or $3,000,” he said. “My goal with any wine program is to find wines that showcase a great value, beautiful craftsmanship and wines that people, frankly, like to drink.”

 

-photo by Alison Green

The Scoop: James Beard award eludes Craft and Nashan

Monday, May 5th, 2014

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Local restaurant boosters are sighing disappointment once more as a James Beard Foundation award eluded chefs from The Gateway City yet again. Neither Gerard Craft nor Kevin Nashan, the two local chefs who were among six finalists in the Best Chef: Midwest category, was named winner. Instead, Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee landed that honor.

Craft is chef-owner of Niche, Pastaria, Taste and Brasserie. Nashan is chef-owner of Sidney Street Cafe. This is Craft’s fifth time as a finalist in this category; it is Nashan’s first. This year marks the first time that St. Louis saw two of its chefs nominated for Best Chef: Midwest.

 

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