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Jul 25, 2016
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Posts Tagged ‘Gerard Craft’

Readers’ Choice 2016: Favorite Restaurateurs

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

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{Clockwise from bottom, Gerard Craft, Dave Bailey, Kevin Nashan, Nick Luedde}

The menus have been printed, revised, reprinted, revised … and reprinted again. The staff has been trained forward and backward. The silverware has been polished until it’s too shiny to behold. Friends and family have flown in for the soft opening with compliments fit for the pope/Shakespeare/Beyoncé of restaurant owners. But when the restaurant finally opens to the public, what’s going through a restaurateur’s mind?

 

Winner: Gerard Craft
Owner, Niche Food Group (Brasserie by Niche, Pastaria, Porano Pasta, Sardella, Taste)

“I think my opening of Niche was way different from any opening you will see today. In 2005, social media wasn’t really a thing. People finding out about new things were not overnight happenings. Now you open a restaurant and a million people line up out your door — definitely not with Niche. No one knew who we were. It was me, one other cook and my pastry chef who I basically kidnapped. We opened to 12 customers, and I think six of those were from the bar across the street, who I think I convinced to come over if I would feed them for free. …

“I was 25. My wife was pregnant. I was doing something a little bit different, which certainly didn’t make it easier. I would work from 8 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. every day. It was intense – a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress. … It was this dream, but also so much reality. And I physically remember when we finally got reviewed — (former St. Louis Post-Dispatch critic) Joe Bonwich just gave us this love letter. After, I looked up and … there were so many people, we didn’t know what to do. I almost threw up. I was like, ‘Oh shit, I have to cook for all these people!’”

 

2nd: Nick Luedde
Co-owner, The Libertine

“We had been in the press and had such a highly anticipated opening. … Ten minutes prior to opening — the staff looks great, and we had 200 people on the books — but I’m looking at my wife (Audra Luedde), afraid no one was going to show up. We had so much money invested. This was everything. … It all comes down to whom you’ve hired. If those people are people you actually want to have a drink with, the rest takes care of itself.”

 

3rd: Kevin Nashan
Chef-owner, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab and Sidney Street Cafe

“Obviously you want to throw up in your mouth. It’s such a big rollercoaster. You just hope people come and are so grateful when they do. It takes a village — everyone contributes to your success. … There are so many variables on opening day. The system you have sometimes completely changes during service, after service.”

 

Honorable mention: Dave Bailey
Owner, Baileys’ Restaurants (Baileys’ Chocolate Bar; Baileys’ Range; Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar; Rooster; Shift, Test Kitchen & Takeout; Small Batch; The Fifth Wheel)

“My seven stages of opening a restaurant for the first time:

Electric shock: Woke up early that sunny morning with no alarm clock with a surge through my body and the immediate thought, ‘I am opening a restaurant today! You’ve been working on this day and night, sleeping two hours at a time on top of the bar. It’s actually real now. Go go go!’

A burning sensation in the back of the head and neck: Is there enough time to get everything done? … What did I forget? Will anyone come? Will too many people come? Why am I doing this on a Friday? Why didn’t I do a soft opening?

Accelerated breathing and hypersensitivity to sound and touch: Almost there; we’re looking pretty good; it’s all about to happen; this is going to be amazing!

Calmness and solidarity of purpose: Ready. Everything looks right; everything feels right; everyone is in position.

Panic and self doubt: Why wasn’t there a line at the door? Is anyone going to come? Was this a terrible idea in the first place? I can’t afford for this not to work.

Total absorption in work and an extremely narrowed focus: Wow, it’s really busy. Everyone seems happy. We are almost keeping up; we need to go faster; we need to go much faster. Touch more tables … make them happy no matter what.

Complete relief and a feeling of having learned and grown more in hours than in the past several years: It worked. We built it, and they came. We are going to do an even better job tomorrow.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

Extra Sauce: In case you missed it…

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

From major changes at one of St. Louis’ top restaurants to big moves for an area coffee roaster, here’s what went down it the St. Louis dining scene last week, in case you missed it…

 

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1. Gerard Craft is closing his flagship restaurant, Niche. The Niche Food Group owner announced on June 2, that after 11 years, he will close Niche on June 11 and launch a new concept, Sardella, in another four to six weeks.

2. The newest member of the Sasha’s Wine Bar family will open to the public on June 2, when Scarlett’s Wine Bar opens its doors for service at 4253 Laclede Ave., in the Central West End.

 

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3. South City coffee roaster Sump Coffee will open a second location in Nashville, Tennessee this fall. Sump’s space in the OneC1TY development in the West Nashville/Midtown neighborhood will be next door to Pastaria.

4. Lilly’s Music & Social House, located at 2321 Arsenal St., at the corner of Jefferson Avenue, closed its doors on Sunday, May 29. The restaurant and entertainment venue was open almost one year.

 

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5. Sauce Hit List has three new must-try restaurants this month, including Big Baby Q and Smokehouse, Five Aces Bar-B-Que and Stubborn German Brewing Co.

6. Eureka is getting a sweet new addition this summer as Sarah’s Cake Shop plans to open a cafe, Sarah’s on Central, into the old Central Hall banquet center at 127 S. Central Ave.

The Scoop: Gerard Craft to close Niche, Sardella to open

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

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Gerard Craft is closing his flagship restaurant, Niche.

The Niche Food Group owner announced today, June 2, that after 11 years, he will close Niche on June 11 and launch a new concept, Sardella, in another four to six weeks.

Craft launched Niche in Benton Park in 2005, then moved the fine-dining restaurant to Clayton in 2012, where it adopted a reputation for highly regional, Missouri-focused cuisine. Niche has consistently earned praise as one of St. Louis’ top restaurants, and won Craft the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Midwest in 2015.

“It felt right to move on and this felt like the time to close, while Niche was at its top,” he said.

Craft said he wanted to return to a fun, more relaxed atmosphere, adding that Niche’s reputation as a fine-dining, special-occasion restaurant taxed both his diners and his staff. The team was ready for something different.

“We open restaurants we want to go to,” Craft said. “Brasserie opened because we wanted casual French. Pastaria opened because I didn’t want to take my kids to Maggiano’s anymore. Sadly, none of us want to go to Niche.”

Sardella will leave behind Niche’s Missouri focus, but it will continue to source locally, working with area farmers, coffee roasters, brewers and chocolatiers. Though the name Sardella comes from an Old World Italian fish sauce, Craft said the menu will not be exclusively Italian. Instead, this name serves as inspiration to allow the staff to revitalize forgotten dishes and create “American food with a wink to Italy.”

Renovations will see an additional eight seats, a more intimate space and a larger bar. The menu will see the return of fish and pasta and an expanded beer and cocktail program. The lunch menu includes salads and sandwiches, while dinner will focus on small plates priced between $12 and $20 and larger entrees priced around $27 to $35. The breakfast menu will feature grain bowls and pour-over coffee in consultation with Sump Coffee owner Scott Carey.

Though a bittersweet moment for the Niche Food Group family, Craft said he looks forward to the future of Sardella. “I want to remember Niche at its height,” he said. “This is a celebration.”

 

Catherine Klene, Meera Nagarajan and Kristin Schultz contributed to this report.

 

-photo by Carmen Troesser

Extra Sauce: In case you missed it…

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

From chef changes at some of STL’s top restaurants to new University City’s first brewery, here’s what went down in the STL food scene in, in case you missed it…

 

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1. Niche executive chef Nate Hereford will hang up his apron at the Clayton institution at the end of May. Hereford said he has accepted a position at Hampton Creek as a research, design and development chef in San Francisco.

2. Audra Angelique and Audrey Faulstich have launched A2 The GFCF Cafe and Restaurant, which opened doors on April 11 at 1330 Washington Ave.

 

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3. Drive down Dorsett Road with the windows down and you may catch a whiff of wood smoke from Big Baby Q and Smokehouse. The new restaurant opened in the Fee Fee Center at 11658 Dorsett Road in Maryland Heights on Monday, April 18.

4. After three years on Cherokee Street, Revel Kitchen will close its doors on Sunday, April 24, as reported by Feast. Revel Kitchen’s delivered prepared food service will also be suspended.

 

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5. Former food truck sushi chef Elliot Harris has found a new, more stationary home. Harris, who sold Chop Shop STL in December 2015, is now executive sushi chef at Baiku Sushi Lounge in Midtown.

6. A new tap room and brewery is in the works, looking to open in early 2017. Senn Bierwerks, founded by Dustin and Kristen Chalfant and James Hellmuth, will produce and distribute beers from a facility at 7593 Olive Blvd., at the corner of Olive and North and South boulevards.

 

-Niche Food Group photo by Jonathan Gayman; Big Baby Q photo by Michelle Volansky; Baiku photo by Carmen Troesser 

The Scoop: Nate Hereford to exit Niche, Brasserie’s Nick Blue to take the helm

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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{The Niche Food Group Team. Chef Nate Hereford is front row, second from left; chef-owner Gerard Craft is front row, far right.}

 

Niche executive chef Nate Hereford will hang up his apron at the Clayton institution at the end of May. Hereford said he has accepted a position at Hampton Creek as a research, design and development chef in San Francisco.

Niche Food Group chef-owner Gerard Craft said Brasserie executive chef Nick Blue has been tapped to take the top toque at Niche, and Brian Moxey has been named executive chef at Brasserie.

“We’re excited as a company for (Hereford) to take on the big picture stuff,” Craft said. “It’s what we drive for in this company, (but) in a bigger way. It’s so awesome that great leaders are taking this on.”

Hampton Creek is a food production company that focuses on making sustainable products that are good for the consumer and the wider food system. It is the company behind Just Mayo and Just Cookie Dough.

“I’m really excited to be involved with big picture food sustainability issues,” said Hereford. “These issues are near and dear to my heart. This is an opportunity to make a difference in the food system, (in) our kids’ future.”

Hereford has been at Niche for six-and-a-half years, working his way from cook to sous chef to executive chef of the nationally acclaimed restaurant. Craft said he appreciated Hereford’s leadership on the line and within the company.

“Nate’s a lot more (of) even-keeled person than me,” Craft said. “That’s helped him get through a lot of struggles in the process of developing a new cuisine. I’ve learned a ton from that. Not everything’s the end of the world. His even-keeled attitude has allowed him to take the team through a lot of failure. That’s been huge. I’ll definitely miss that.”

 

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{Chef Nick Blue}

Craft pulled Hereford’s replacement from within the Niche Food Group team, tapping Brasserie’s executive chef to take the top spot at Niche. Craft said Blue was the first person he thought of to take the role, citing his experience in both the tradition and history of food and his forward-thinking creativity.

“You have to have both,” said Craft. “He is his own person and also has a playful side that will be fun to see develop. He has huge, huge shoes to fill, and he knows that.”

Blue said he was excited to take on the job. “What Nate’s done has been amazing,” Blue said. “I’m looking forward to keeping the ball rolling and using local Missouri ingredients.”

While Blue has worked in the Niche kitchen intermittently over the years, he and Hereford will spend the next month working together. Blue will also keep one foot at Brasserie to train its new executive chef. Moxey has spent the last two years as head chef at Perennial Artisan Ales, but he previously worked within Niche Food Group at Pastaria. “I have a respect for classic French food,” Moxey said. “I look forward to working with a great group of people.”

Perennial co-owner Emily Wymore said control of the south city brewery’s kitchen will stay in house. Chef Kaleigh Brundick, who has worked with Moxey in Perennial’s kitchens and has three-and-a-half years at Perennial, will step up to head chef.

“We were lucky to have (Moxey),” Wymore said. “He’s an extremely talented chef. We’re excited to see what (Brundick) brings. She has a great palate and is passionate about local, seasonal, ingredient-focused food.”

 

-Niche Food Group photo by Jonathan Gayman; Nick Blue photo courtesy of Niche Food Group

Sneak Peek: Porano Pasta on Washington Avenue

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

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After nearly a year of anticipation, chef-owner Gerard Craft will open Porano Pasta, his new fast-casual concept, Tuesday, Jan. 26. As The Scoop reported last February, this is the James Beard Award winner’s fifth restaurant, and it is located in a massive two-story space at 634 Washington Ave., downtown in the Mercantile Exchange. Executive chef Michael Petres, former executive chef at Pastaria, will oversee day-to-day operations.

Customers will step up to the counter and build their own bowls from a selection of bases, sauces, proteins or vegetables and toppings. They can start with house-made organic semolina pasta, organic farro, romaine and kale lettuce or Italian rice, then add one of 11 house-made sauces including everything from a classic pomodoro to pumpkin seed and lime pesto.

Porano features hormone- and antibiotic-free meat such as slow-roasted pork, beef meatballs and grilled chicken. Veg-friendly offerings like spicy tofu or seasonable vegetables (currently butternut squash or Brussels sprouts) are also available. In additional to bowls, Craft and Petres have created a daily focaccia dish using Companion bread and Panzos, fried dough pockets stuffed with rotating fillings.

The large beverage menu includes a frozen Negroni and a nonalcoholic strawberry-lime slush inspired by Italian granitas. White and red house Scarpetta wines on tap are available, as well as bottled and canned brews, a house draft beer brewed by The Civil Life and several Excel sodas.

In addition to quick, custom meals, Craft said he wants to focus on how he can source locally and responsibly as a fast-casual concept. “We want to rework the way the fast-food industry thinks about the supply chain,” Craft said. To that end, Porano recently purchased whole hogs to break down in-house and use for its porchetta, Sunday sugo sauce and specials. Craft aims to source from many of his current vendors that supply other Niche Food Group restaurants, including Todd Geisert Farms, Newman Farms, Double Star Farm and Berger Bluff farms.

Porano will be open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., though it will operate on limited hours to start. Here’s a sneak peek at what to expect when doors open Tuesday at Porano Pasta:

 

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-photos by Michelle Volansky 

Ones to Watch 2016: Ashley Shelton

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

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Title: Executive chef, Pastaria
Age: 26
Why Watch Her: Dreams and dreamy pasta – Shelton makes it all happen.

On a busy Saturday night, Ashley Shelton and her crew can serve up to 500 people in one shift. Instead of barking commands at her cooks, Shelton motivates them in her own way. “When it gets hard, I start singing. The dishes have their own songs,” she said. “And I hand out candy and Kool-Aid. I like to run a fun line.”

Shelton credited her mother, who passed away when she was only 14, for instilling a love of cooking. Three years later, as a high school junior aiming toward culinary school, Shelton landed a job on the line at the venerable Annie Gunn’s in Chesterfield. “That’s where I learned speed, discipline and how to clean a kitchen. … I learned from the best,” Shelton said.

Laser focus then propelled her to The Culinary Institute of America, where she first made bucatini all’a amatriciana, the traditional Italian entree that would become her calling. “That dish was so good, it made me want to study Italian food,” Shelton said. And so she did, moving to Florence to earn a Masters in Italian Cuisine from the Apicius International Hospitality Institute.

Shelton first met chef Gerard Craft in Italy, while he was on a research trip before opening Pastaria. “He interviewed me over dinner, and it was an awful meal. We joke about it now,” Shelton said, laughing. Craft hired her as Pastaria’s line cook before the restaurant even opened its doors, and then, in February last year, offered her the executive chef position.

Craft is proud and supportive of Shelton. “Ashley is a rare breed. She is able to lead a massive kitchen with a smile, a sense of humor and with a confidence usually found in much older chefs,” he said. “Ashley is quite simply the best, and I am guessing that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

We agree. With her can-do attitude and passion for Italian cuisine, songs will be sung about Shelton – and her bucatini – for years to come.

 

This Friday on Sound Bites, The Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co.​ chef Jessie Gilroy, a member of the Ones to Watch class of 2015, and Pastaria chef Ashley Shelton join Sauce to discuss their leadership roles in some of St. Louis’ most prestigious kitchens. Tune in to St. Louis Public RadioFriday, Jan 8. at noon and 10 p.m. for Sound Bites on Cityscape.

– photo by Carmen Troesser

 

Cooking the Classics: Mashed Potatoes

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

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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

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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

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{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

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