3 meals that changed St. Louis chef Matt Daughaday​'s life

We initially met Matt Daughaday while he was working for Niche Food Group, first as a sous chef at Niche Restaurant and then as executive chef at Taste Bar. From there, Reeds American Table in Maplewood was his first solo venture, where he recruited some of the brightest stars the St. Louis food scene had to offer – sommelier Andrey Ivanov (now master sommelier), sommelier Alisha Blackwell-Calvert and pastry chef Summer Wright, to name a few. With Reeds now shuttered, Daughaday is applying his talent as executive chef at Juniper, John Perkin’s Southern-inspired restaurant that combines traditional flavors with solid technique to make dishes that shine, an approach that feels like Daughaday through and through. Here, he shares three meals that changed his life.

Niche Restaurant, 2008
The first meal that I always go to – it set me on the path that ultimately brought me where I am today – is the first time I ate at Niche Restaurant. It was a first date situation, so I wanted to pick somewhere nice, and I’d always heard Niche was an awesome place to go. The meal I ended up having was sous vided pork tenderloin on top of Brussels sprouts; it had shiitake mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onion and a spiced carrot puree underneath. It was probably one of the best plates of food, hands down, that I’ll ever have. It didn’t seem fancy, it didn’t seem unreachable, it just seemed like one of the best things I’d ever tasted. It encapsulated everything that I thought food should be. It doesn’t have to be visually stunning; it just has to taste really good.

Eventide Oyster Co., 2014
In Portland, Maine, there’s a restaurant called Eventide – they do these rolls, like plays off lobster rolls, and oysters with different ices and accompaniments. A simple, easy, casual place, but every bite of food I had there was pretty amazing. I recently made my version of those rolls at Juniper; we did a crab roll on a milk bun with preserved lemon aioli and Korean chile flake.

Portland has the highest density of restaurants per capita or something like that, but it reinforces the idea that good food can happen anywhere if it’s just representing where you are well. Simple can still accomplish so much.

U. City Quality Foods (Stan’s), 1995
Where Winslow’s Table is right now, [when I was] growing up, was U. City Quality Foods – we always used to call it Stan’s, it was a little market. My family had a running credit – it was a really old school sort of place; you could just go and sign for what you wanted. Stan, the butcher behind the counter, would make sandwiches, and his sandwiches were the greatest thing in the world to me. My sandwich that I got my whole life was just turkey and Swiss, and later I added mustard. And then I would eventually get iceberg lettuce. And then eventually I added Miracle Whip too. Sandwiches are better when somebody else makes it for you, because I’d buy all the same ingredients, I’d go home and make this sandwich, and I could never really figure out why his were better.

I thought about it as I got older and I knew a little bit more about food; the way he put together a sandwich was different than how most people do. He’d do meat and then the cheese in the middle and then meat and then the lettuce stacked on top, so when you’d take a bite of the sandwich, it was the texture that was really different. I realized that the order of operations – how you put something together – makes a huge difference. You can have all the same ingredients, but if you’re not doing it in this order, you get something else entirely.