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Sep 02, 2014
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Posts Tagged ‘Mad Tomato’

The Scoop: Chef Chris Lee leaves Mad Tomato, opens Chef’s Table STL

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014



Chef Chris Lee has parted ways with Mad Tomato chef-owner Vito Racanelli to launch a new venture called Chef’s Table STL, a prepared meal delivery service and catering company. Lee, who joined Racanelli at Mad Tomato just three months ago, decided to launch his own business after friends requested his help creating diet-specific meals, as reported by St. Louis Magazine.

Lee rolled out Chef’s Table STL last week; customers can call or order custom, nutritious meals online, to be delivered twice a week. “The thought was to offer that to people so they can stay home, relax with the family and not have to drive around,” Lee said. The menu, which will change according to ingredient availability, features entrees like seared chicken with Southwest-style quinoa and a gyro salad, small plates like maki rolls and crisp pork meatballs, as well as a selection of sides, soups and salads. Chef’s Table STL currently is using the kitchen at Wild Flower in the Central West End while Lee hunts for a commissary kitchen.

Years of experience with professional kitchens and catering have prepared him for running a one-man catering operation. Prior to teaming up with Racanelli at Mad Tomato, Lee worked as a banquet room chef at River City Casino. For a number of years he was executive chef for In Good Company, which operates Café Ventana, Sanctuaria, Diablitos and Hendricks BBQ. “I took all the things I learned in the past eight or nine years and squeezed it into one thing,” he said. “From a lifestyle choice, I like this much better. Not only am I not using my physical being as much to crank out food for service, I’m running a business … I’m no longer behind the stove. I’m in front.”

He added that Mustard Seed, a joint venture between Racanelli and Lee, had not yet taken off when Lee left Mad Tomato two weeks ago. The concept saw the two chefs visiting and assisting other restaurants, then using some of those consulting fees to help establish small restaurant businesses in developing international communities.

Racanelli said he was surprised at Lee’s departure, but he was confident he could handle any extra workload at his Clayton restaurant. “I’ll get it all done. God gave me some really strong shoulders,” he said. “I always find a way to get it all done.”

Ligaya Figueras contributed to this report.

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli, Chris Lee join forces to launch new company, Mustard Seed

Thursday, May 1st, 2014


{Chef Chris Lee competes during Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royale in September 2013. Lee is a two-time Chef Battle Royale champion.}

Chefs Vito Racanelli Jr. and Chris Lee have joined forces to form a new company called Mustard Seed. The new venture will be the parent company to Racanelli’s Italian restaurant Mad Tomato in Clayton and future culinary endeavors for the business partners and longtime friends.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Racanelli said. “Chris wanted to do something different. He’s never owned his own place.” Add to that Racanelli’s desire for help running Mad Tomato and other various projects, and Racanelli said it was a logical partnership.

Until April 9, Lee was the banquet room chef at River City Casino. Prior to that, he was executive chef for In Good Company, which owns Café Ventana, Sanctuaria, Diablitos and Hendricks BBQ.



{From left, chef Vito Racanelli Jr. and Sauce publisher Allyson Mace emcee the Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royale in September 2013.}


The pair will first focus “on getting Mad Tomato where we want it,” Racanelli said, adding that Lee has been in the kitchen for the last week and a half, tweaking dishes and getting familiar with the restaurant. Mad Tomato will roll out a new menu May 10 with dishes that combine Lee’s classical French training and refined culinary skills with Racanelli’s own rustic style.

Lee said he hopes to improve Mad Tomato’s existing favorites, without expanding it to excess, especially since the kitchen at Mad Tomato is not large. “The menu’s going to have to be simple in a way that meshes with the size kitchen we have,” Lee said.

He said he will focus on entrees and desserts, stemming from his French culinary training under chefs Marcel Keraval at Café de France and the late Jean Claude Guilloussou at L’Auberge Bretonne. He added that his eclectic background running kitchens for Kirk’s American Bistro, Hendricks and River City Casino will also influence his vision for the menu at Mad Tomato.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve always been doing it for someone else,” said Lee, who is eager for more latitude in a kitchen he co-owns. “I’m pretty excited about working with Vito. (He) is definitely a little more extroverted than I am … but coupled with someone who can strengthen the back of the house – we make a good pair.”

Sauce managing editor Garrett Faulkner contributed to this report.

-photos by Ligaya Figueras

The Ultimate Margherita Pizza

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Crust. Tomatoes. Mozzarella. Basil. The queen of Neopolitan pizza is understated in her simplicity, yet efforts to achieve this crowning beauty have caused countless headaches in the kitchen. Finally, area experts reveal their essential tricks to making the ultimate Margherita pizza at home.

“Pizza is the most easiest, complicated thing to make. I know people who have been trying to make the perfect pizza for 20 years!” – Vito Racanelli, chef-owner, Mad Tomato

The Tools: You don’t have to have a wood-fired oven to get the thin, crispy crust and great chew of a Neopolitan pizza (See the heat trick below.). But a tricked-out pizza peel and stone will elevate your pie to new heights.

G.I. Metal Perforated Aluminum Pizza Peel
Aluminum peels are durable, flexible and don’t dry out like wooden ones. The perforation lets you shake off excess flour before sliding the pizza onto the stone to avoid burning, and the rectangular shape gives you more surface area, making it easier to lift, slide and adjust the pizza. $96. (model A-45RF/50) gimetalusa.com

Emile Henry Ceramic Baking Stone
This rectangular, heat-tempered, scratch-proof, chip-proof, coated stone won’t crack in your oven and has more surface area than round versions, a crucial factor in achieving that crisp crust. $40 to 60. Kitchen Conservatory, 8021 Clayton Road, 314.862.2665, kitchenconservatory.com 

The Ingredients: We queried quite a few chefs about the brands they’ll bet the house on. Bonus: These high-quality products are all made in the USA.

Hodgson Mills Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
You don’t have to spend extra dough to make great dough. Unbleached, all-purpose flour is fine. This near-local company offers a high-quality product that’s available at most supermarkets.

Stanislas Alta Cucina “Naturale” Style Plum Tomatoes
“We tried every single Italian one,” said Gerard Craft, owner of Pastaria, who settled on this domestically grown tomato because it offers “a nice bite of acidity” and “the right consistency, just crushed on its own.” For a fresh sauce, simply crush the whole, peeled tomatoes in your hand and season with salt. A couple ladles is all you need; you should be able to see the dough through the sauce. No. 10 Can, 6 lbs. 7 oz.: $4.89. DiGregorio’s Market, 5200 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.776.1062, digregoriofoods.com

Calabro Fior di Latte Cheese
Buffalo mozzarella? Not so fast. Cow’s milk can produce a cheese with fabulous flavor. This fior di latte has a lovely creaminess, mild saltiness and melts beautifully into the sauce. Cut it into slightly larger chunks (4 ounces cut into 6 slices for a 12-inch pizza); the cheese will take longer to melt, so it won’t burn by the time the crust is done. ½ lb.:$6. Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.6603, pastariastl.com

Fresh basil
Some chefs add the leaves before popping the pizza in the oven; others wait until after. Place the outer, shiny side of the leaves up. If you add prior to baking, when drizzling olive oil over the pizza, drizzle some on the leaves to keep them from burning and discoloring.

The Technique: Creating a great pizza at home is all about technique. Let Ted Wilson, who trained under pizza god Jim Lahey, take you through it.

Find Wilson’s recipe for The Ultimate Pizza Dough, here.

Cover the dough with just enough flour so it doesn’t stick to your hands or the lightly floured work surface. Use the pads of your fingertips to gently push on the center of the dough until you feel the work surface but don’t break through the dough. Flatten and stretch the dough by pushing from the center of the dough and moving outwards until you get within 1 inch of the rim of the circle that’s taking shape. Give dough a quarter turn and repeat. Continue until a round disk forms. While stretching and shaping, place a hand under the dough to ensure it isn’t sticking. If so, toss a little flour onto the work surface. Gently guide dough outward from its underside as it rests on your fingers to stretch it further.

Ready the toppings before shaping the dough. Once the dough is shaped, quickly add the toppings in this order: sauce, cheese, basil (optional), drizzle of 1¼ to 1½ tablespoon of olive oil and a 4-fingered pinch of kosher salt. Leave the outer rim of the pizza untouched.

To get your home oven to reach restaurant-high temps, toggle between the bake and broil functions. Place the stone in the oven on a rack set in the topmost position with enough room for the pizza. Preheat the oven to its highest baking temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. Just before shaping the dough, switch to broil. Shape the dough, add the toppings, then use the peel to slide the pizza onto the hot stone. Switch the oven back to its highest bake temperature for 2 to 3 minutes, then back to broil. The pizza is done when the cheese is bubbling, the crust is charred but not burnt, and the underside is golden, about 3 more minutes (5 to 6 minutes total).

Pictured: Margherita pizza from The Good Pie, 3137 Olive St., St. Louis, 314.289.9391, thegoodpie.com

— photo by Greg Rannells

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli parts ways with Onesto

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

013112_onestoVito Racanelli, chef-owner of southern Italian restaurant Mad Tomato in Clayton, has parted ways with his other restaurant, Onesto Pizza & Trattoria. Racanelli’s decision to break with Onesto leaves business partner Craig Stenson in control of the pizzeria in the Princeton Heights neighborhood of South City.

“I was spread too thin,” explained Racanelli last evening during a preview dinner for Mad Tomato’s new winter menu. “I want to focus on this restaurant alone. You have to come here if you want to see me,” he said. Racanelli opened Mad Tomato last May. (See Michael Renner’s New and Notable review of Mad Tomato here.)

Apart from focusing on the house-made pastas and other rustic cuisine at Mad Tomato, Racanelli is launching a charitable giving initiative via monthly events and special promotions at the restaurant. His goal for 2012, he told guests, is to donate $10,000 to local charities. The first of these events will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, with 20 percent of lunch and dinner proceeds benefiting Caring For Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for children involved in the family court system in the St. Louis area.

— Photo by Carmen Troesser

Drink This Weekend Edition: A new rosé that’s good as a pair or a solo sipper

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

072111_RoseWineCheap and too sweet. Bottom shelf and bad. Simply not in vogue. Over the last few years, these views of rosé wines have gone through the crusher, fermented into a newer, more knowledgeable opinion that a rosé can be tasty, pair well with food and even hang tough on its own. This week, we offer a brand new arrival in this wine category that’s both food-friendly and tasty enough to stand alone.

Mad Tomato, the new Italian restaurant by chef-owner Vito Racanelli, has exactly one rosé on its wine list and it is BaRosé, a bottle from well-known Barolo wine producer Virna di Borgogno. Barolo wine is typically made from Nebbiolo grapes and is recognized for its light color. This is the first time that Virna has made a rosé Nebbiolo, created from the youngest of the Nebbiolo vines from five vineyards near Piemonte. The skin of the grapes is left in contact with the juice for about 48 hours, resulting in a vibrant pink hue and beautiful notes of strawberries and raspberries, as well as deeper notes of plum on the nose and palate.

Tom Sutliffe, general manager at Mad Tomato, settled on the BaRosé because it worked well with the tomato sauces and southern Italian cuisine at the Clayton restaurant. “It stands up to the acidity of the food and doesn’t overwhelm it,” he noted. If you want to pair this refreshing wine with a meal at home, think along the lines of grilled white meat or fish, seafood or spicy dishes. Reserve a second bottle for the fall, and match it with truffles, another Piemonte specialty.

So, where can you find this refreshing summer sipper this weekend? Well, it’s available by the glass and by the bottle at Mad Tomato, or you can pick up a bottle for some patio pouring at Randall’s Wine and Spirits and Wines of Wildwood. Priced at around $15 a bottle, it also pairs well with your pocketbook.

Three reasons to dine out and give back

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

041211_DineOutSt. Louis is one of the nation’s most generous cities, ranked 8th nationally, based on per-capita giving among large cities in 2009. We in the Gateway City know that charitable giving is important; it’s just a matter of deciding who should get our charitable dollars. Here are three ways to make your dining dollars support some worthy causes right now.

1. Give Back Mondays at Ruth’s Chris Beginning yesterday and running through the end of the year, when you head to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse downtown or in Clayton on Mondays and order the Give Back menu item of the month, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Backstoppers, a group which supports families of public safety workers in the greater St. Louis area who have died while on duty.

2. The Ripening of the Mad Tomato Chef-owner Vito Racanelli Jr.’s new restaurant at 8000 Carondelet Ave., in Clayton is set to officially open May 6. However, you can get a preview of Racanelli’s Southern Italian cuisine by attending the opening fundraiser party on Thursday, April 28. Half of the proceeds from your $30 ticket will support St. Louis area food bank Operation Food Search. Make your reservation by calling 314.802.8883 x 399.

3. Dine in the Dark to help fight blindness. Guests who attend Dining in the Dark at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac hotel on May 11 will don light-blocking blindfolds while dining and use their sense of smell, taste, sound and touch to gain heightened awareness of blindness. Proceeds from the event will support the sight-saving research efforts of national nonprofit Foundation Fighting Blindness. To purchase tickets, visit fightblindness.org or call 847.680.0100.

The Scoop: Vito Racanelli to serve up rustic Southern Italian fare in downtown Clayton

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

100510_eggparmVito Racanelli Jr., owner of Onesto Pizza & Trattoria and V. Catering & Events, has just inked the lease for the old Carondelet Grill space, securing the spot at 8000 Carondelet Ave., in downtown Clayton for a southern Italian restaurant.

The menu at the yet-to-be-named restaurant will focus on “wholesome, simple, rustic cuisine” from southern Italy, Racanelli said. “It’s everything I love: Neopolitan tripe braised with onions and olives and topped with bread crumbs, focaccia made from potatoes, pastas from Southern Italy.”

Many dishes will be inspired by food Racanelli grew to love in his adolescence when he spent summers in Italy helping the family businesses. “I’m taking a lot of good cuisine from my mother,” he said. “She’s from Calabria. Everyone on mom’s side is a butcher – going back five or six generations; the butcher shop is still there. My father is from Bari. On my father’s side, they are all farmers. They grow almonds, olives, grapes. They have pear orchards.”

Comparing the new restaurant to Onesto, Racanelli explained that Onesto is “like what you see in restaurants where I ate at as a kid growing up in New York City: American Italian. [The new restaurant] is more ‘mom’ flavors: braised pig skin, eggplant parmesan made on top of the stove like my grandmother made it, zucchini flowers. Anchovy and pancetta will be mainstays that I will make myself.” The wine list will also have a southern Italian focus.

Being that Racanelli grew up in the pizza business, you can bet there will be a pizza oven at the new locale as well. “It’s straight old-school wood burning, no gas line,” he said, adding that he isn’t trying to mimic Neapolitan pizza. “I’m just serving what I like.”

Although Racanelli hasn’t finalized the name for the 50- to 60-seat restaurant, he says he’s leaning toward Mad Tomato. “I’m kind of a kid at heart. It’s a playful name. I collect toys, comic books. And I call my daughter ‘The Mad Tomato.’ I keep going back to that name.”

Schedule permitting, lunch- and dinner-goers will be able to taste Racanelli’s from-the-Italian-hearth-and-heart fare some five months from now – on Valentine’s Day.

All of our coverage on Vito Racanelli Jr.
All of our coverage on Onesto Pizza & Trattoria

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