Ones To Watch: Food and drink pros with promise

Every year, we scour the area in search of individuals whose combination of talent, creativity and drive sets them apart in the local food landscape. We found this year’s up-and-comers on a farm, in a brewery, behind the bar, on the kitchen line, and building community via gardens and supper parties. Meet the Ones to Watch class of 2011 – then keep your eye on them, because they’ve only just begun to make an impact.

Chris Bolyard
Why watch him: He’s had a heavy hand in the evolution of Sidney Street Cafe

If you visited Sidney Street Cafe this summer, perhaps you enjoyed crispy sweetbreads served atop a pea cake with a rhubarb purée, sweet and sour onions, and house-made pork rinds. Or Wagu brisket dumplings bathed in truffled jus with spring peas and backyard radishes. And for that, you can thank chef Chris Bolyard.

A St. Louis native, Bolyard graduated in 2000 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., then returned to his hometown to work at Cardwell’s at the Plaza for several years. When he met chef Kevin Nashan at a catering gig, the two instantly hit it off, and six months after Nashan purchased Sidney Street Cafe in Benton Park, Bolyard joined Nashan’s kitchen bridgade as a sous chef, later assuming the post of chef de cuisine.

Bolyard, the face these days behind Sidney Street’s ethereal pork and pasta plates as well as some masterful dinner specials, is now in his seventh year cheffing at one of St. Louis’ premier fine-dining restaurants, the lengthy tenure an anomaly in the industry. Why has he been willing to stay put for so long? “Being part of the evolution of Sidney Street has been a lot of fun,” he explained. “Where the menu was when [Nashan] bought the place has completely changed. The food has gotten so much better,” he said, recalling a menu once laden with cream sauces and a generic vegetable selection.

“He’s constantly evolving in food and as a leader,” summed Nashan of the 31-year-old he dubs his “right-hand man” and whom he entrusts to helm the kitchen in his absence. “And he works hard. He is tireless with the way he goes about the day-to-day business,” Nashan added.

Although Bolyard feels close ties to Nashan (“Kevin and [his wife] Mina are like family to me. It makes it easy to work for the guy day in and day out,” said Bolyard), he does mull over the possibility of someday opening a place of his own. “I don’t see myself as doing anything as big as Sidney Street. Maybe something along the same style of food, though, or even a butcher shop – something that offers premade items, a little market of sorts, where we sell cuts of meat, fresh sausages, stocks,” he mused. Whatever Bolyard’s next step might be, one thing for certain is that he will do it in St. Louis. “I thought about leaving for a while, but my wife and I live in Maplewood. We love it.”

Dustin Parres
Why watch him: He’s a vodka professor on tenure track

Dustin Parres was working as a barback at the Sheraton Hotel downtown when he first met Derek Gamlin. But it was a chance encounter with Gamlin soon after he opened Sub Zero Vodka Bar and Restaurant that set Parres’ bartending career in motion. “He said, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give you a job,’” recalled Parres. “I was behind the bar for six hours a day, learning all the drinks and vodkas.”

Some four years later, Parres, 27, has risen through the ranks to bar manager. He’s shifted from vodka pupil to vodka professor, familiarizing patrons with the 452 (and counting) vodkas on the shelves at Sub Zero. “He’s like a sponge,” commented Gamlin, who co-owns the Central West End bar with his brother, Lucas Gamlin. “When a new vodka comes in, he does all the research and comes up with facts that no one would know and informs people.” Those teaching moments – Parres’ favorite part of the job – occur across the bar and at monthly tastings and classes for Sub Zero’s Elite Vodka Club members.

Parres holds a degree in chemistry, but these days, the bar is his laboratory – and he has no plans to leave. He’ll figure prominently in the soon-to-launch fruit cocktail bar that is part of Sub Zero’s current expansion, making deconstructed Bloody Marys from scratch, working produce and herbs into champagne cocktails, and mixing other well-rounded drinks that fall within his “bar chef” parameters: fresh, modern and inventive.

“I absolutely couldn’t think of doing anything other than what I am doing right now. … I have found my calling,” he said. “I will probably be bartending forever — and probably doing it here forever.”

Mike Marquard
Why watch him: There’s nothing halfway about his coffee – or his customer service

As a former barista who finished sixth in the nation at the U.S. Barista Championship in 2009 and 2010, Mike Marquard certainly has the skill to craft a great cup of coffee. He’ll even tailor it to your taste using any of the variety of beans and brewing methods available to him. It’s all part of the progressive coffee program he’s brought to Half & Half in Clayton.

But coffee expertise isn’t the only thing that Marquard, 28, brings to the counter. It’s his combination of coffee know-how and customer service that are making the new restaurant a destination for a perfectly brewed and demystified cup of java.

“I helped a lot of different restaurants and cafés start up as part of my [previous] job,” explained Marquard, who began working at Kaldi’s Coffeehouse in Clayton as a barista in 2006 and eventually came to be the company’s education and customer service leader. “I was on the front line,” continued Marquard, “I saw the good, bad and ugly. That helped me see the needs from the front end, the service aspect.”

In April, Marquard joined Half & Half owner Mike Randolph to open the new eatery, where baristas – led by Marquard himself – are eager to match a cup of joe to patrons’ palates. Marquard views a proactive approach to customer service as the key to gaining customer trust. “Here, people come up to the bar and order, and it’s a chance for us to engage with the customer. … By engaging them, they trust you. That is what we want: [for customers] to trust us rather than the menu board.”

Marquard is excited about building an artisanal coffee community in St. Louis, similar to the one that he sees brewing in Minneapolis. “I am making coffee for people, [serving it] in ceramic cups, and getting a chance to talk about coffee. I will hopefully keep the coffee community in St. Louis growing and inspiring more people to do that.”

Chris Tirone
Why watch him: He’s rapidly learning from leaders to become one himself

He’s only 26, yet Chris Tirone’s résumé is already an impressive read: a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales; stages at a two-star Michelin restaurant in France and at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago; stints locally at An American Place and at Monarch, where he worked as a sous chef for two years with executive chef Josh Galliano before moving to Truffles in Ladue last fall.

“I hired Chris Tirone as a tournant when I opened An American Place almost seven years ago,” recalled Truffles executive chef John Griffiths. As tournant or “relief cook,” Tirone’s role was to work wherever needed rather than assume responsibility for one specific area of production. “That is probably the most difficult station because every day it’s a little different,” explained Griffiths. “He is the guy who had to fill in all the pieces of the puzzle. He was inundated with a myriad of changing daily tasks from every station. But he took it on. He didn’t question it. He attacked each day fresh.”

Tirone’s maturity and dedication to the craft are what led Griffiths to seek the rising star as his sous chef at Truffles, where he relies on Tirone to be “another set of eyes on all the stations,” to play a key role in menu creation and to train line cooks when new dishes are introduced. “He bridges the gap between chefs and cooks,” summed Griffiths. Tirone stated that patience is key for that leadership role, recalling the patience that his mentors have extended to him throughout his culinary career.

Still a voracious learner, Tirone views this stage in his career as an opportunity to gain experience with Italian fare – and then creatively put that cuisine through a Midwestern filter. He’s also excited for the launch of the restaurant’s new service-for-two menu and the challenges it will bring, such as paring down primal cuts of meat and executing dishes in much less time than it would take other kitchens.

As for the long haul, Tirone doesn’t talk about an endpoint, rather, a journey – perhaps with stops in Chicago or one of the coasts – of “seeing what the culinary community has to offer.”

Will Fischer & Stephanie Co
Why watch them: They founded the most open of covert, alt foodie operations

Imagine a tasty underground dinner for $10; a 24-page zine that highlights lesser-known indie eateries, shops and artisan food makers; and a barter circle for trading the fruits of your labor for some else’s services and wares. This three-in-one operation, called underWAREs, is the brainchild of Will Fischer and Stephanie Co. Each facet of underWAREs functions as “a way to bring people together in the community,” explained Co. But, added Fischer, “it’s meant to be very unpretentious, and very accessible and silly at the same time.”

Fischer and Co grew up together in suburban Chicago. Both attended Washington University – Fisher majoring in civil engineering, and Co in biology and international studies. In their free time, they enjoyed discovering hidden food gems in the city, hosting dinner parties and trading homemade foodstuffs with friends, all of which instilled a sense of community that neither wanted to leave upon graduating in May 2010.

UnderWAREs’ casual monthly dinners have been underway since January, featuring food prepared by people who are passionate and talented cooks (but not necessarily formally trained), and are held in the home of one of the attendees. The underWAREs publication continues to inform readers of small, independent food-related faces and places, and the barter circle is growing stronger: In June, the pair organized a bartering event that attracted more than 60 people interested in swapping skills and goods, not all of which were food related. They hope to make such barterfests a quarterly occurrence.

With steady day jobs – he works in Wash U.’s Office of Sustainability; she handles marketing and community outreach at a community development corporation for the 17th Ward – and the underWARES project to keep their creative juices churning, both Fischer and Co are committed to staying — and making a mark — in their adopted hometown. “I like St. Louis because you can have an impact that is hard to have other places,” said Fischer. Co echoed those sentiments: “By living here, I feel it makes a small difference. I feel more at home here than in Chicago.”

Chris Shea
Why watch him: He’s on a self-directed beer path

Chris Shea’s love affair with beer began five years ago when, living in Boston, he became a Cheers-esque character at Beantown’s beer-geek hangout, The Publick House. Since then, Shea, 27, has become fully entrenched in beer culture, charting a course from hobbyist home brewer to pro.

What impresses Morgan Street brewmaster Marc Gottfried most about Shea, whom he hired as assistant brewer in November 2009, is his work ethic coupled with his enthusiasm for learning the trade. “He’s a self-directed person. Once he’s trained on something, he’s on autopilot. He’s on a freaking mission,” commented Gottfried, who relies on his eager apprentice to clean tanks, handle the end brew and take inventory during the 20 to 25 hours a week that Shea works at the brewery. Last year, Shea’s dedication paid off when Gottfried gave him the go-ahead to design a beer and brew it under Gottfried’s direction. “He worked hard. He earned it,” said Gottfried. The result? A tasty Schwarzbier, a German dark lager that Shea dubbed Black Pils. Recently the brewmaster allowed Shea to filter beer for the first time, a task that Shea deemed “terrifying”: “It’s scary stuff if you take it seriously. That’s $20,000 worth of beer.”

For the last year, Shea has also been a part-time server and bartender at Eclipse Restaurant. He sees a symbiotic relationship between his jobs as maker and server of beer, noting that the comments – and criticisms – about suds that he hears from patrons at the restaurant help him to brew better beer.

These days, Shea’s plate is fuller than ever. He spends every spare moment at the brewery, yet somehow, the enterprising beer guru finds the time to consult on beer lists for special events at a few other area establishments, including Eclipse, where he collaborates with sous chef Zach Flynn to plan Blue Plate Beer Dinners – $15 for an off-the-menu entrée paired with a craft beer.

Why watch it: This nonprofit is sowing the seeds of change in underserved neighborhoods, one garden at a time

Jennifer Strayhorn believes fresh produce should be accessible to everyone. Her nonprofit, HopeBUILD, has built more than a dozen organic vegetable gardens in underserved communities of St. Louis city and county, St. Charles and East St. Louis, while also offering gardening camps for kids. HopeBUILD makes a difference beyond the confines of the garden bed by selling a portion of the harvest to market-goers at North City Farmers’ Market and also by providing nutrition education classes.

Strayhorn founded the organization in 2004, but it’s this season that has finally yielded a bumper crop. In 2011, the 14-person HopeBUILD team (two full-time staff members, paid interns and a handful of volunteers) has had a hand in the completion of seven new gardens, revitalizing unused and neglected green spaces throughout the metro area. Moreover, the summer youth gardening camp, which began in 2008 with 50 attendees, has more than 125 students learning first-hand where real food comes from at camp sites in North City, Normandy and East St. Louis. “The response this year has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Strayhorn, who explained that the program impacts not just the students, ranging from kindergarteners to high school sophomores, but also to their families, with whom they share information about healthy eating.

Keeping HopeBUILD alive for seven years has not been without difficulties. Gardens don’t bloom overnight, and developing healthy eating habits takes time. As a result, Strayhorn, the organization’s executive director, focuses on long-term goals rather than looking for immediate results. “We have to educate volunteers on how to effectively engage the community” for such transformations to take place, she explained. And while the tiny organization faces budget constraints, HopeBUILD is now nearly self-sustaining. Strayhorn hopes that a new initiative, The International Garden, will be a revenue generator for the organization. That demonstration garden, whose construction is underway in The Ville neighborhood northwest of downtown, will provide a learning environment for budding gardeners, supported by nominal donations from visitors.

Amy Marcoot, Beth Marcoot and Brooke Segrest
Why watch them: These seventh-generation dairy farmers are expanding locally made cheese options

“We either need to sell the cows or we need to do a value-added business.” Those sobering words from dairy farmer John Marcoot to his daughters Amy, Beth and Brooke are the reason why, two years later, Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville, Ill., is creating a name for itself as a premiere maker of artisan and farmstead cheeses.

In an age when many family farms are disappearing, the Marcoot sisters are not about to see the 150-year-old herd die. “We didn’t want our generation to be the generation not to have Jersey cows,” said Beth. “It’s been in our family a long time, and we want to expand that to the next generation.”

Faced with such a challenge, the three sisters enlisted the assistance of Neville McNaughton, a St. Louis-based artisan cheesemaker whose tutelage has helped them since the farm entered the cheesemaking business in March 2010, adding little seen cow’s-milk cheeses to the list of locally made options. Since then, Marcoot Jersey Creamery has built a line of 13 standout cheeses – including both fresh and cave-aged versions as well as cheese curds – made from the herd of 65 Jersey cows that their father manages with assistance from Brooke’s husband. The Marcoot label can be found locally at Dierbergs, Sappington Farmers’ Market, Local Harvest Grocery, and the Maplewood and Tower Grove farmers’ markets.

Amy, age 29, manages the creamery while Brooke, 24, manages cheese distribution and farm tours, with Beth, 27, handling marketing and sales in southern Illinois as she earns a master’s degree from SIU-Carbondale.

The effort to ensure the farm’s success has led Amy to recently move back to the farm to be nearer to the cheesemaking facility. In addition, Beth and Brooke plan to expand the tourism component at the farm once Beth earns her degree in therapeutic recreation next August. “We have dreams of exploding our cheese and tourism, to launch our education and tourism to another level,” said Beth. “It will be an exciting time.”