Fine-Tuning a CWE Stalwart

Since graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta’s culinary school in 2001, Josh Roland has worked in London at Orrery and Mezzo, and at the posh Jean-Georges in NYC. He’s staged with celeb chef Gordon Ramsay (who didn’t even shout obscenities at him), and appeared on Iron Chef America and The Martha Stewart Show. Roland returned to his hometown to launch Fifteen and ended up helming the kitchen for a year. The chef who claims to “cook best when put under pressure” recently came on board at Wild Flower in the Central West End, where he’s already heating things up with a revamped dinner menu; a reshaped lunch and brunch menus are in the works.

When did you first put on an apron and start cooking?

I washed dishes at Brandt’s when I was 15. Then I was at Sportsman’s Park; I pretty much did everything there: served, cooked, bused, hosted. Then I went to Balaban’s, and I worked there about a year. I really didn’t know I wanted to cook until I got into Balaban’s. I was originally going to go into communications – I wanted to be a politician – but I got into the kitchen and just fell in love with it.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your culinary career?

I landed a job for Daniel Boulud in New York City. About eight months later, I moved on to Jean-Georges, and six months later I was his executive sous chef. And I was on Iron Chef America in 2005. For three weeks, me and my good friend Adam Perry Lang and my friend Paul Eschbach, every morning before we had to go into work, we’d practice for about four hours. We lost by a point to Bobby Flay.

And two years ago, Emeril Lagasse invited [a group of] us over to his restaurant at 12:30 in the morning. It was me, Rachel Ray, Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver and a couple other people. We had a 33-course tasting menu and drank almost $20,000 worth of liquor. We sat there until almost 8 in the morning. That’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

What is your role at Wild Flower?

Phil Czarnec, the owner of Wild Flower, asked me if I’d help out the executive chef in the kitchen. So he basically wants me to be his “creative coordinator.” We’re not redoing the concept, we’re just redoing the format. I’m helping them out with their food cost. … And just putting together recipes and training the staff and making sure everybody is onboard with what they do.

This is the first menu change that Wild Flower has seen in some years. What prompted it?

They wanted to do something a little bit different for spring. It’s a rather large menu, and so it was really just trying to figure out how to simplify. Actually, the mise en place is a little more intense, but the actual execution of all these dishes is a lot quicker, so we are able to get the food out of the kitchen a lot faster.
What approach did you take with this menu?

I cancelled the use of heavy cream in almost everything, and instead we use purées and broth. So like the mushroom-stuffed mushroom dish, instead of using cream, I take white button mushrooms and purée them with milk so it makes its own cream without using cream. The signature garlic chicken, I couldn’t change. Besides that, almost everything is different – different sides. I didn’t change any protein, but I changed what it was being served with.

Owner Phil Czarnec has raved about your beet salad that has three types of beets, goat cheese, raisins, pistachios and horseradish vinaigrette, and also your carbonara with a cauliflower purée topped with a poached egg. Can you tell me about some other creative dishes on the menu?

The BLT pizza is brand new; we are selling that like crazy right now. Everybody was all nervous about me putting a fried egg in the center of a pizza, but people love it – you can dip the crust in the yolk. It’s got bacon and chorizo, lettuce and tomato. The pork and bacon meatballs – people are loving that too. It’s just ground bacon and ground pork served with warm tomato jam. The seafood linguine – now it’s being made with a sofrito. I take equal parts anchovy and garlic and a touch of chile and purée that. That’s what the seafood is sautéed in before you add the tomato broth. It’s all real simple stuff.

Wild Flower has posited itself as a place for “American gourmet dining with a casual atmosphere.” How is that concept translated onto the new menu?

It’s simply prepared food that can be gourmet yet casual at the same time. And it’s playful – like the pork meatballs or the BLT pizza – but it’s presented and executed in more of a gourmet fashion.

What do you think makes Wild Flower unique?

It kind of reminds me of being in Greenwich Village in New York City. It’s bistro; it’s very inviting. I think they have one of the best corners in the West End in terms of the patio. The food has always been consistent, and we were just kind of refreshing it.

Wild Flower
4590 Laclede Ave., St. Louis, 314.367.9888