Ones to Watch 2019 // Alex Herman of Louie
Title: Cook, Louie
Why Watch Him: He's the chef St. Louis chefs are rooting for.
They call him The Little Chef. Alex Herman was the most recommended person for Ones to Watch this year. Gerard Craft (Niche Food Group), Alex Donnelly (Gioia’s Deli), Brian Lagerstrom (formerly Union Loafers), Cary McDowell (Pi Pizzeria), Chris Meyer (Kitchen Kulture), Nick Bognar (Nippon Tei), Tim Wiggins (Yellowbelly) and more suggested him. None of them will directly benefit from his success.
“Yes, it’s the cooking; he’s a very good cook,” said Louie owner Matt McGuire. If you love the fish specials at Louie, you know Herman is good. But that’s not the only thing that matters in a kitchen. “It’s a small boat. If a kid’s an asshole, it’s a long day. He knows how to make the day be OK.”
Herman is the kind of guy unfazed by a burly chef friend suddenly grabbing him from behind, kissing his cheek and asking if he can join an interview. One of six siblings in a family of first responders, he’s used to taking shit.
“It’s definitely helped me out,” he laughed. “Say whatever you want to me – I don’t care! It’s already been said.”
The fend-for-yourself lessons of growing up in a large family have also helped. Herman first learned how to cook from his firefighter dad because he wanted to be able to make his own breakfast when his mom, a police dispatcher, was busy.
He took French starting in middle school because he thought it might help him in the industry. It has. He also took cooking classes at South County Technical School during high school and attended the Culinary School at St. Louis Community College – Forest Park while working at Pastaria and Niche after graduation. He needed carpal tunnel surgery in 2016 and came back to work at the now-closed Porano after two months.
Ask Herman about his strengths, and he’ll tell you about his failures.
“Porano was really great,” he said. “The thing about Porano and Niche is that I failed a lot at both of them.” But along with cheerfully chronicling his supervisors’ admonishments (Sam Witherspoon, One to Watch class of 2017, had him write out his Niche shifts in five-minute increments to help with time management), Herman related how he now keeps his station clean, is more efficient and has become a good teacher.
“[Sam] would always say, ‘Whenever you get your James Beard Award, I’m the first person you thank, alright?’ He’s the first person I’m gonna thank if I ever get it,” Herman said.
That blend of humility and confidence is what makes him a darling of the St. Louis industry. Many cooks feel like they already have to know everything, but Herman is open. He’ll ask questions. If you want to get better faster, you have to ask questions. “He is at school, and he is a great student at every level,” said McGuire. “He is clearly taking all the jobs he can.”
Beyond that, “part of being a really good chef is being able to recruit,” McGuire said. Good chefs inspire old colleagues to move across the country when they open restaurants.
“Alex is definitely that kind of guy,” McGuire said. “One of these days, there’s going to be a Chez Alex – or a Chez Little Chef.”
Heather Hughes is managing editor at Sauce Magazine.
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