Two St. Louis chefs named finalists for James Beard Award

by St. Louis Business Journal, E.B. Solomont

Gerard Craft of Niche and Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe are among the nominees for the James Beard Foundation Award’s Best Chef: Midwest award.

The seven nominees, whittled down from a pool of 20 semifinalists, were named Tuesday. Previously, the foundation announced semifinalists last month for the food industry’s top honor. Other nominees for Best Chef: Midwest are Justin Aprahamian of Sanford in Milwaukee; Paul Berglund of The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis; Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart in Minneapolis; and Lenny Russo, chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in Saint Paul, Minn.

In February, six St. Louis chefs and one restaurant were named semifinalists in various categories: Taste, at 4584 Laclede Ave., was a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. Chef Rick Lewis, of Quincy Street Bistro, was named a semifinalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year. In the Best Chef: Midwest category, Craft and Nashan were joined by Ben Poremba of Elaia, Kevin Willmann of Farmhaus, and Josh Galliano of The Libertine.

The foundation received 40,000 submissions and narrowed down a list of semifinalists, which were announced last month. The smaller pool of nominees will compete for the final awards, which are to be announced May 2 and May 5 in New York City.

Esquire TV’s Knife Fight Renewed with Epic Chef Lineup

by Eater, Erin DeJesus

The Esquire Network’s underground, after-hours culinary competition Knife Fight gets a renewal for its second season, and its competing chef line-up gets a major upgrade for season two, premiering Tuesday, April 15. Like last season, each episode pits two chefs in a head-to-head cooking battle at host Ilan Hall’s Los Angeles restaurant The Gorbals.

But as Hall tells Eater, season two’s contenders — including Sue Zemanick, Tim Love, Traci des Jardins, Chris Shepherd, Kevin Gillespie, Mark Peel, and Charles Phan — bring “a lot of chef power” that allows the show to stretch beyond familiar Los Angeles faces. “I feel like the industry has embraced the show — they connect with it because it’s in a restaurant, and taking away the prize really brings things down, like an exhibition fight or skating match,” Hall says. “There’s nothing to prove, so people just let down their guard and go for the gusto. Chefs that I know, they love it because it’s more their speed.”

While celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Elijah Wood made appearances in season one, the rotating line-up of judges — episode one’s battle between Tim Love and Mike Isabella will be judged by Kris Morningstar and Naomi Pomeroy — features more chef faces this time around. “The fights that came out best were when chefs were judging other chefs, because there’s a mutual respect there that you can’t really replicate,” Hall says. Also new for season two: Friendly wagers (including some “disgusting ones”) between competing chefs, which Hall swears were “completely not driven by production. The chefs that are really close with each other, they want to up the stakes. They’re all very competitive, so even though they’re good friends, they’re there for fun, they still want to win.”

What does remain the same, however, is the show’s use of legitimate ingredients — “no strawberry milk powder, no Skittles” — and the fact that it’s all for fun (and bragging rights). Says Hall: “We have a combination of Michelin star [owners], James Beard Award-winners, Food & Wine Best New Chefs, and still the only prize is a shitty knife.” The complete line-up, below:

Knife Fight Season 2 Chefs

· Anthony Strong, Locanda Osteria, San Francisco vs. Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco
· Benjamin Bettinger, Imperial, Portland, OR vs. Patrick McKee, Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar, Portland, OR
· Brian Huskey, Paiche, LA vs. Mei Lin, Ink, LA
· Chris Shepherd, Underbelly, Houston vs. Brooke Williamson, Tripel/Hudson House, LA
· Edi Frauneder, Edi and the Wolf, NYC vs. Wolfgang Ban, Edi and the Wolf, NYC
· Eric Park, Black Hogg, LA vs. Kevin Gillespie, Gunshow, Atlanta
· Freddy Vargas, Scarpetta, Beverly Hills, CA vs. Justin Wills, Restaurant Beck, Depoe Bay, OR
· Greg Denton, Ox, Portland, OR vs. Jason Wilson, Crush, Seattle
· Jason Paluska, The Lark, Santa Barbara vs. Kyle Itani, Hopscotch, SF
· Jessica Christensen, City Tavern, LA vs. Kevin Luzande, Acabar, LA
· John Gorham & Kasey Mills, Toro Bravo/Tasty & Sons, Portland vs. David Lentz & Kris Longley, Hungry Cat, LA
· Justin Devillier, La Petite Grocery, New Orleans vs. Michael Bryant, Churchill, LA
· Kevin Nashan, Sidney St. Café, St. Louis vs. Harold Moore, Commerce, NYC
· Mark Peel, Campanile, LA vs. Salvatore “Sal” Marino, Il Grano, LA
· Michael Smith, Michael Smith/Extra Virgin, St. Louis vs. Adam Sappington, The Country Cat, Portland, OR
· Michael Teich, The Wallace, LA vs. Johnny Zone, La Poubelle, LA
· Ricardo Diaz & Tony Alcazar, Bizarra Capital, Whittier, CA vs. Gilberto Cetina Jr. & Daniel Elkins, Chichen Itza, LA
· Ricardo Zarate, Picca/Mo-chica/Paiche, LA vs. Ray Garcia, FIG, LA
· Steve Redzikowski, Acorn/Oak at Fourteenth, Denver vs. Kelly Liken, Kelly Liken, Vail, CO
· Sue Zemanick, Gautreau’s, New Orleans vs. Tory McPhail, Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
· Tandy Wilson, City House, Nashville
 vs. Kelly English, Iris, Memphis
· Tim Love, Love Shack, Lonesome Dove, Woodshed, Fort Worth, TX vs. Mike Isabella, Graffiato, Washington, DC
· Tin Vuong, Abigaile, LA vs. Perry Cheung, Phorage, LA
· Traci des Jardins, Jardiniere, San Francisco vs. Mary Sue Milliken, Border Grill, LA

Six small cities with big food scenes

by USA Today, Megan Pacella

If you’re looking for a town with culinary zeal, you don’t have to head to a big metropolis. Tucked away in mountain towns, seaside hamlets and Midwestern cities lie hidden culinary gems, including upscale dining, local coffee shops and delicious microbrews. Food meccas like New York and San Francisco have nothing on these small city food scenes:

St. Louis

The Gateway to the West has earned a place on the map of great food cities. This designation is in part thanks to Chef Gerard Craft, a James Beard Best Chef nominee and owner of Niche, which focuses on the elegant side of Midwestern fare with dishes like celery root soup and filet of beef with acorn squash. At Farmhaus, chef Kevin Willmann and his team offer up amazing creations with fish and market vegetables. Kevin Nashan at Sidney Street Café offers upscale menu items, like the Uni Boillabaise and Black Trumpet and Oyster Mushrooms, in an unpretentious atmosphere. Other picks for a delicious culinary trip include Sump for pour-over coffee, Mai Lee for Vietnamese, and Civil Life or Urban Chestnut for local microbrews.

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Sidney Street Cafe is located in a century-old building in St. Louis’s historic Benton Park neighborhood.  Sidney Street Cafe

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 The restaurant’s upscale menu and unpretentious atmosphere is a neighborhood staple.  Cardin Photography

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 Chef Kevin Nashan’s Eel and Uni Bouillabaisse is made with cauliflower puree, uni bottarga, pickled shrimp and rouille crostini topped with backyard kale.  Greg Rannells 

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Featured is the charred Meyer lemon semi freddo.  Sidney Street Cafe

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Duck is presented on a platter at Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis, Mo.  Cardin Photography 

Next Wave

by Feast, Liz Miller and Catherine Neville

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Pictured from left to right: Jamie Everett, pastry chef, Farmhaus; Jess Paddock, pastry chef, Home Wine Kitchen and Table; Josh Poletti, executive sous chef, The Libertine; Ming Liu, sous chef, Sidney Street Cafe; Ryan McDonald, chef de cuisine, Juniper; Josh Charles, chef de cuisine, Elaia and Olio; and Nate Hereford, chef de cuisine, Niche

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 Ming Liu, Sidney Street Cafe

Executive chefs lead restaurant kitchens. One of their responsibilities is assembling the right team of cooks to execute their creative vision. These chefs de cuisine, sous chefs, pastry chefs and line cooks often go unnoticed outside of the kitchen, but as their bosses will tell you, they are absolutely essential to a restaurant’s success. Interested in recognizing – and bending the ears – of these talented, up-and-coming cooks, we asked seven local executive chefs who they’re excited to work with on the line. What followed was a conversation with that group of young cooks over the fried chicken blue-plate lunch at Farmhaus.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of preserving the authenticity and candor of this conversation, this story contains strong and potentially offensive language.

The panel:
• Jamie Everett, pastry chef, Farmhaus
• Jess Paddock, pastry chef, Home Wine Kitchen and Table
• Josh Poletti, executive sous chef, The Libertine
• Ming Liu, sous chef, Sidney Street Cafe
• Ryan McDonald, chef de cuisine, Juniper
• Josh Charles, chef de cuisine, Elaia and Olio
• Nate Hereford, chef de cuisine, Niche

Catherine Neville: What does it mean to be a chef de cuisine in your kitchens?

Nate Hereford: Essentially it’s someone who oversees the kitchen when the executive chef isn’t there. Depending on the structure of said kitchen, it kind of varies. A lot of my responsibilities at Niche are ordering, hiring and making sure the kitchen is running up to my chef’s standards. I think the idea of running it up to your boss’s or your chef’s standards is a common goal throughout.

Neville: Trust comes into play with the owner or the chef-owner of the restaurant. How do you establish a positive working relationship and that level of trust?

Josh Poletti: Proving yourself and not compromising anything. If you wouldn’t eat it, you don’t sell it. If you don’t think the dish is gorgeous, it needs to be redone.

Josh Charles: I think consistency is a big issue, too – proving that consistently, time and time again, you can produce exactly up to their standards and to your own. That was a really big connection between me and Ben [Poremba].

Neville: How did you get into the kitchen at Farmhaus, Jamie?

Jamie Everett: [My] chef back home was from St. Louis, and I was looking for jobs around here. Chef [Kevin Willmann] had just won a Food & Wine magazine award, and [my chef] recommended coming here. I came down and staged, and chef gave me the job, and I moved to St. Louis. Originally I was the garde manger cook. I still work the hot line occasionally, but our pastry chef left, and then chef started doing them, and then he just kind of asked me if I wanted to do it and passed it on.

NEVILLE: Has anybody else staged?

POLETTI: I’ve staged and eaten in every place before I’ve worked there, except Libertine, because we opened that.

NEVILLE: How long is a stage typically?

POLETTI: A full day. At least a full day.

Jess Paddock: If you don’t last a day, it’s not going to happen.

Ryan McDonald: I have people in my kitchen right now who are laypeople who just want to learn how to cook. It kind of started with the pop-ups we were doing – with [A] Good Man [Is Hard to Find] and [The] Agrarian. I had people stage for six months at a time, a couple days a week or three days a week. I still have somebody who works at another restaurant but really isn’t fulfilled; they stage twice a week [at Juniper].

HEREFORD: One guy at Niche probably staged with us for two years. He’s a Ph.D. candidate at Wash. U., and he’s a really good kid. He’s really into food. We used to give him a hard time, but he’d still show up every day.

NEVILLE: What is it really like for you to be in this industry on a day-to-day basis?

HEREFORD: I just had a child this summer, so I’ve tried to mellow it out a bit, but it’s still crazy. Today, for example, was one of my off days, and I got a text message from one of our purveyors at 7 this morning. So it’s already starting at 7am.

POLETTI: It’s almost seven days a week. We’re always prepping; we’re always trying to get our orders in on time; we’re always thinking about what we want to do. We want to keep it consistent, keep it really good and put a lot of love into it. So at 2am Josh [Galliano] will be emailing me ideas, or things that we need to work on. And then come Monday, our day off, we’re starting a new bread program, and we have to go in and feed the starter and make a levain and keep that going. It’s non-stop, all day, every day.

CHARLES: I think I have a pretty unique situation. I get in about 9, first thing I do is pull everything out of the walk-in that we need to start cooking that day because we don’t have a set menu [at Elaia]. Basically we have certain ways that we prepare items – about four or five different ways. I’ll pull out everything we need for the day and get it on the stove, assign tasks to my cooks. And then from about nine to two o’clock we’re just straight prepping, getting as much stuff as I can get done as possible. At two o’clock Ben usually pops his head in – he’s there before that, obviously – but he and I sit down, and we talk about the menu. We decide what’s going to go with what, whether it be cauliflower with bass and grapefruit or that same cauliflower going with our short rib and barley. From there, it’s all about bringing everything together, getting it in a spot, and showing the cooks how exactly we want to plate for the evening. And then, even throughout service, I get to go a little bit farther and add to the dishes. If I want to add a celery leaf garnish to it for the rest of the night, that can happen. Go through service, talk with chef Ben at the end of it: how things tasted, how things went, kind of start thinking about the next day.

NEVILLE: Do you thrive in that kind of constantly demanding environment?

Ming Liu: You have to be on your toes all the time. If you’re not physically there, mentally you’re 24 hours on-call, pretty much. I have food dreams. [Everyone laughs.] I’ll wake up yelling, and I realize that I had a dream about somebody doing a bad job, and I’m yelling at them. You just have to be there all the time.

HEREFORD: It’s so consuming, you start to realize that you cook when everyone else is off. You know that’s your job on Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, every night of the week. You know if there’s an awesome concert you’re not going to be able to take Saturday night off to go see the concert; you’ve got to get over it. That’s the biggest thing – I want to [cook] even more. You start to realize cooking is something very serious…And that’s pretty cool.

Quotes of the Day: St. Louis Chefs on their James Beard Semifinalist Nods

by Feast, Kristin Brashares

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Kevin Nashan, Sidney Street Cafe (shot on location at Sidney Street Cafe for our January 2014 Tastemakers Issue)

It was a huge morning for the St. Louis food and drink scene, with six chefs and one restaurant, Taste, landing on the 2014 James Beard Foundation’s chef and restaurant award semifinalists list.

Often called the “Oscars of the food world,” the annual James Beard Awards recognize top culinary talent across the United States. Every year, the foundation announces the semifinalists first during a special ceremony, which took place this morning in Orlando.

The first St. Louis semifinalist announcement came in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, with Quincy Street Bistro’s Rick Lewis making the cut. Chefs in this category are under 30 and poised to do “big things in the future,” the awards ceremony announcer said.

Then, Taste landed in the Outstanding Bar Program category and five St. Louis chefs in the Best Chef: Midwest category: Farmhaus’ Kevin Willmann, The Libertine’s Josh Galliano, Niche’s Gerard Craft, Elaia’s Ben Poremba and Sidney Street Café’s Kevin Nashan. This is a first-ever nomination for Poremba, who opened Elaia and Olio in late 2012 and has since received a ton of national attention for the restaurant and wine bar. The remainder of the chefs have been featured on the semifinalist list in previous years.

From this point, James Beard judges from across the country will review the semifinalist lists and narrow them down to a final list of nominees. The award nominees will be announced on Tue., March 18, in Chicago, and the winners will be announced at the foundation’s annual award gala in New York City in May.

In the meantime, we checked in with the St. Louis semifinalists for their reactions to the big news:
How did you feel when you found out about the semifinalist nomination?

“Completely unbelievable. I’m just totally shocked. I’ve never tried to do more than put out a good product at our family bar and grill. I’m just trying to make things better. So this is crazy unexpected. It’s a total honor.” – Rick Lewis, chef at Quincy Street Bistro

“I was hanging out with my kids, watching Big Block Sing Song when I heard my phone blow up. I had forgotten that the announcements were today, and in a way, I think it was a better surprise because I had forgotten. Once I saw my phone, I was excited, like a kid on Christmas.” – Josh Galliano, executive chef at The Libertine

“Honored. I was also extremely excited to see Kyle Mathis get some much deserved recognition for our bar Taste.” – Gerard Craft, owner of Craft Restaurants Ltd.

“I feel proud. It’s kind of a mixed sense of pride and surprise. I’m super humbled to be part of such of a great team [of nominees]. These are the people I look up to, and many of them have been at this longer than I have.” – Ben Poremba, executive chef/owner at Elaia and Olio

“It’s always good to be on the bus. You always put your finger out; sometimes they pick you up and sometimes they don’t. Honestly, it’s just really cool what happened for St. Louis. You’re always excited to share good news with people and fellow people you respect. It’s always cool to share that moment.” – Kevin Nashan, chef/owner at Sidney Street Café

“It is always a validating feeling when we are recognized for our work. It’s like swimming upstream running a place like ours. It always feels good to get a cookie every once in a while. Keeps us going for sure.” –Kevin Willmann, chef/owner at Farmhaus

What do you strive to do in the kitchen every day?

“I try to improve and learn something new everyday at The Libertine. It’s a little bit of a hokey answer, but it guides a lot of what I and our crew do at work. We try to constantly improve our recipes, our techniques, and our food so that the guest has the best experience possible. So, we are working on refining our menu and then getting ready to change menus and keep up with all the cool ingredients that our farmers bring to us.” – Josh Galliano, executive chef at The Libertine

“Every day at Niche we push ourselves to be a better restaurant. We are constantly asking ourselves what we can do better.” – Gerard Craft, owner of Craft Restaurants Ltd.

“As a restaurant owner and then as a chef, I strive to make people feel happy, satisfied and special in whatever we do. We want to make right by them.” – Ben Poremba, executive chef/owner at Elaia and Olio

“We’re just trying to offer a really good, wholesome, from-scratch product. We’re trying to what we do the best we can every day … and make it inviting to everyone.” – Rick Lewis, chef at Quincy Street Bistro

What does this say about the St. Louis food scene as a whole?

“St Louis’ representation shows how much we have grown. All of the people on the list are amazing chefs and all have added so much to the St. Louis dining scene. I really feel like St. Louis has one of the fastest growing restaurant scenes in the Midwest outside of Chicago.” – Gerard Craft, owner of Craft Restaurants Ltd.

“I think it’s really cool. You’re finally getting loads of places and good talent. There are a lot of great cooks and chefs in this town. [It used to be that] a lot of them would move to bigger towns to spread their wings and move on to bigger and better things. Now, more are staying here, and you’re getting better restaurants, and it’s cool that places like Quincy Street Bistro are getting recognition on that kind of level.” – Rick Lewis, chef at Quincy Street Bistro

“When people look at the long list of nominations, I want them to see all the St. Louis folks on there and think, “What the hell is going on in St. Louis?!” And hopefully, that gets them to visit our city and restaurants and bakeries and shops more. The amount of nominations is phenomenal and I think it can be viewed in a way that we are all striving to push St. Louis into the forefront of food awareness locally and nationally. Another way of looking at it is that we have been doing that and the nominations are a recognition of getting into that national limelight. I don’t think we’ve made it yet as a food city or region that is nationally recognized, but we are laying the foundation to put St. Louis up there with the bigger food and beverage cities. I like that we haven’t made it yet; it leaves that chip on our shoulders and makes all of us work a little harder to make great food and drinks happen.” – Josh Galliano, executive chef at The Libertine

“It’s a major punch in the face. It’s one thing to step on someone’s toes or to get a cut, but this is a solid, ‘listen, pick your head up; there’s something going on here.’” – Kevin Nashan, chef/owner at Sidney Street Café

“St. Louis is solidly on the map and I love it! I’m excited for everybody.” – Kevin Willmann, chef/owner at Farmhaus

Quincy Street Bistro, 6931 Gravois Ave., 314.353.1588, quincystreetbistro.com

Sidney Street Café, 2000 Sidney St., Benton Park, 314.771.5777, sidneystreetcafe.com

Niche, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, nichestlouis.com

Elaia and Olio, 1634 Tower Grove Ave., Botanical Heights, 314.932.1088; elaiastl.com, oliostl.com

The Libertine, 7927 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.2999, libertinestl.com

Farmhaus, 3527 Ivanhoe, Lindenwood, 314.647.3800, farmhausrestaurant.com

Lewis, Nashan, Galliano Among 2014 James Beard Foundation Award Semifinalists

by Riverfront Times, Nancy Stiles

The semifinalists for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards were announced Wednesday morning, and we’re happy to report that several St. Louis chefs made the cut. Of course, 2013 finalist Gerard Craft of Niche was on the list for Best Chef: Midwest, as well as 2013 semifinalist Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe.

Other Best Chef: Midwest semifinalists from St. Louis are previous nominees Josh Galliano of the Libertine (though he was up for his now-shuttered restaurant Monarch) and Kevin Willmann of Farmhaus, plus first-time nominee Ben Poremba of Elaia & Olio.

Rick Lewis of Quincy Street Bistro was nominated as a Rising Star Chef of the Year, which includes chefs from all over the country, not just the Midwest. Gerard Craft’s Taste was also tapped for Best Bar Program.

The finalists will be announced March 19, and the awards are May 2 and 3 in New York City. Fingers crossed that this is our year, and congrats to all the nominees! You can see the full list here.

Chef Kevin Nashan on 10 Years at the Sidney Street Cafe

by Eater, Amy McKeever

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[Photo: Sidney Street Cafe]

In 2003, St. Louis chef Kevin Nashan took over the popular Sidney Street Cafe from its previous owners who had finished a 16-year run. Over the next ten years, Nashan carefully transformed Sidney Street Cafe from a meat-and-potatoes restaurant into an upscale, thoughtful bistro garnering local and national recognition. He’s been a semifinalist for the James Beard Awards and cooked for President Barack Obama. Last year, Sidney Street Cafe was named St. Louis Magazine’s restaurant of the year just as it hit its tenth anniversary under Nashan’s direction. And last week, Nashan welcomed high-profile chefs such as Sean Brock, John Shields, Kelly English, and more to St. Louis for a dinner to mark the ten-year anniversary.

In the following interview, Nashan talks to Eater about gaining the trust of St. Louis diners as he sought to make Sidney Street Cafe his own, and how the arrival of fellow St. Louis chef Gerard Craft helped him make those changes. And it’s not just Sidney Street Cafe that has changed in ten years: Nashan discusses how the St. Louis dining scene has made “leaps and bounds” over the past decade with both a growing public interest in food as well as young chefs returning to open up smart concepts.

Looking backward to the very beginning of Sidney Street Cafe, what was the opening night like for you?
We took over a pre-existing restaurant, a meat-and-potato restaurant, which wasn’t a bad thing. It was popular. It was definitely a direction that I wanted to go away from, but it was kind of a patience game. It was one of those things where I had to bite my tongue and just feel it out, get to know the clientele we were cooking for, and that kind of thing. And then, through patience, we got to change it and gratefully [the diners] stayed on board. It’s been a really fun ride with, obviously, some lumps in the road, which are good because then you really appreciate the good times.

But yeah. We got to incorporate so many things over the years. I love growing our own stuff. We took our parking lot — it’s about 100 yards — and for six months out of the year, we get to grow our own stuff out here. And then we got to implement a charcuterie program, a pastry program. Every year, you try to tack something on to make it better for the guests and for all of us. You always want it as a learning environment.

How long did it take before you were able to make that initial menu change?
A good four or five years. And it wasn’t like [we] weren’t doing anything before that. We were starting to make everything from scratch. It was just kind of a patience game. Every little milestone — whether it be serving foie gras or, hey, we got our first tasting menu — we all had a high five for a moment and then carried on. It still goes on today. We feel like we still haven’t gotten to that and I hope we never do. It’s not a matter of getting there. It’s a matter of the whole journey.

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[Photo: Sidney Street Cafe]

When you started out, did you have an idea of exactly all the changes you wanted to make or was that a developing process?
It was kind of a developing process. I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and my family had a restaurant there for like 27 years. When I came to St. Louis after college, we wanted to start a restaurant from scratch. The [Sidney Street Cafe's original] owner had eaten at my family’s restaurant back in the day, and he had heard that my brother, my wife, and I had moved back into town. He said, “Hey listen, why don’t you guys check this out?”

It’s a process. Diners push us and we push them.
It felt like [being] back at my family’s restaurant. I felt that family unity, and it was someplace I knew for sure we could evolve. I didn’t know necessarily how or how long it was going to take. The initial step a lot of times is just to change everything. We completely took a different approach. You already have a business that’s doing well, people seem to enjoy the food… It’s kind of like a friendship. You garner respect, you get someone to trust you, and once you get that trust, it’s leaps and bounds. It’s a ride for both of us. [Diners] push us and we push them and it’s just a really neat process.

How did you first know that the dining public trusted you?
It’s kind of like how you know when someone likes you. If you and I are friends and I respect you, I’m not going to tell you I respect you. You’re going to understand I respect you through actions and through loyalty. But honestly, I don’t know. It’s taking risks, too. Even though I say we were conservative for those years, we definitely took some risks. I have my buddy to thank, too, Gerard Craft. He’s one of my best friends in the whole world, but he totally helped me change my game a lot faster than I think I would have.

How so?
He just moved into town probably three years after I got here. He opened up [Niche], and it was definitely something this town needed. It was a breath of fresh air. And I say “needed” because everyone was doing kind of the same thing. He was cutting a cornerstone. It was really neat because not only did we become best friends, but we also really respected and helped each other. It was fun. And it’s still fun. This whole town, we’re really village-like. And it’s real. There’s a lot of great restaurants in this town.

Aside from having to wait it out to change things around, what were some of the big challenges you faced at first?

Well, of course, any time there’s change of any sort, everyone’s like, “Well, it’s not as good as it used to be,” or “You’re trying too hard.” But I think the biggest challenge is believing in yourself. Even though I had worked in a lot of great restaurants [and] I’d been doing this for a long time, I still didn’t have that confidence where I could make moves. Part of me wishes that I was a little more aggressive at a certain point, but then I’m kind of grateful. It obviously panned out because we’re still in business after ten years, knock on wood.

At the end of the day, the building is erect and people are coming in.
Looking back, I’m definitely happy with a lot of the momentum that happened. I just wish maybe it was a little quicker. But who knows? You can always rewrite history, but at the end of the day, the building is erect and people are coming in and hopefully enjoying the food. I think it’s thoughtful cooking. Not that it wasn’t thoughtful before, but it’s different.

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[Photo: Sidney Street Cafe]

Can you tell me a little more about how it’s different?
There are so many farms at our fingertips, like there is everywhere, but in the Midwest it really is like five miles away from you. That allows you to cook and show the Midwest off a little bit. I think the farms were so under-utilized [ten years ago], and also there weren’t a whole lot of options for dining guests. When they were introduced to certain stuff, they were taken aback at first. But after they realized this actually tastes good and that it grows in our back yard, they were taking it upon themselves. Now you go to farmers’ markets and people are buying cardoons, sweet potato leaves.

All the stuff that you would think wouldn’t ever happen, now it’s happening. I love taking people around our little parking lot here where we grow everything from myoga ginger to benne seeds. It’s an education for our neighborhood, too, because we share it with them. We don’t charge anybody. It’s cool to be a part of it. You’re going to educate them, and they are so appreciative. It’s a really cool cycle.

It sounds like it’s not just Sidney Street Cafe, but sort of the whole area that has seen some pretty big changes in the last ten years.

I feel like one day we’re going to wake up and it’s going to all be here in St. Louis.
Absolutely. I would say leaps and bounds in the last five years. Now you’re seeing a lot more kids who either grew up here or who had worked here ten years ago and left are coming back. They really want to make this home. It’s amazing. Now the talent pool is better. People are coming in and opening really thoughtful places. Like Salume Beddu, our charcuterie store, is incredible. We have an awesome new doughnut place. It’s becoming a real city. Not that it wasn’t before, but I just feel like one day we’re going to wake up and it’s going to all be here.

The people who are moving back are doing really important things. It’s not coming back to say, “Hey look, I’m cool and I can do this.” It’s more like this is what St. Louis needs and they’re opening that. It’s great. Everyone gets behind one another. When someone is slacking, everyone is really quick to point that out, and when people are doing well, they’re also quick to point that out.

Why do you think there’s so many people coming back to St. Louis right now?
I don’t know, people like to be part of something that they believe in. At the end of the day, this is a really family-oriented town with good roots. Now it’s getting to be more of a food town. Ten years ago, I would say everyone was trying to flee. Now it’s the opposite just because a lot of people did take risks and open up businesses. Now it’s real. And the community, obviously you can’t do it without the support of the community. They’re completely behind it.

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Chefs gathered in the Sidney Street Cafe kitchen for its tenth anniversary dinner. [Photo: Sidney Street Cafe]

What are the challenges of keeping a business open for ten years in a shifting economy like we’ve seen?
It’s very challenging. I don’t care what industry you’re in. When [the] economy [gets] hit, it cuts spending. Obviously one of the first things to go is going out to eat. You have to hold on and hopefully be smart about your business and not be so big to where you can’t cut back and save money for when you need it. Also the important thing that nobody really points out is you have to evolve through this whole time. So yeah for three or four years, people may be hurting, business may be off, but you still have to plug money into your business. If the awning is messed up, you’ve got to fix it. You’ve got to have little projects and goals.

That’s what drove me. If you truly want to do something and do it well and do it with the true care that needs to be given, you’ll always find a way. It’s not the same path for everybody. I’ve taken a completely different path than say, my buddy Gerard Craft. That’s not to say one way is more right than the other. It’s what’s right for the individual.

And how were the initial reviews and public response when you took over? How has that evolved through the years?
It totally evolved. We took over a restaurant that was well known in St. Louis and were under that microscope. The paper lists your resume and they’re like, well, “They’re going to change everything and they don’t really care about the customer.” It’s hard. You’ve got to gain that respect and you’ve got to get it quick. There’s no time to lose. At the end of the day, it’s about good food and good service and totally caring about each and every person that tries to come in. Simple as it sounds, so many people, including myself, screw it up. You have good days and bad days. Hopefully you have a lot more good days because otherwise you’re not going to be in business.

I’m scared every day. You should be scared. There should be uncertainty.
I’m scared every day. I think the day that changes, I’m out. You should be scared. There should be uncertainty. There should be excitement. You always have to impress somebody. It doesn’t matter who you’re impressing. Just because this big-time chef comes into your restaurant or the President comes in or whatever, the person who saved up all year to come to your restaurant is equally important. That’s what’s so grounding about this whole thing.

What was it like getting the St. Louis Magazine restaurant of the year award after ten years?
I mean, is there a restaurant of the year? I feel like so many people should be restaurants of the year. I would be wrong if I said it didn’t feel good to get that, it’s good that someone acknowledges your efforts. But it’s also kind of like, well, that happened two seconds ago. Let’s move on. You really can’t sit there and bask in the sun. All we want to do is make people happy. So if you sit there on top of a mountain saying you’re cool, you’re an idiot. Food’s not about that. Food doesn’t yell at you when it’s peaking, “Oh look how cool I am.” When someone says we’re doing really well, our reward is hopefully we have a full restaurant. Hopefully I have employees that want to stay with me, and hopefully there’s longevity.

Does it feel like it’s been a decade for you?
Yes and no. You could do a Saturday night service sometimes and it feels like a decade, just depends how bad it hits you. But parts of it went by so quickly. Especially in this business, we’re always looking for time. I want to spend time with my family, my babies, my wife. But I also want to be selfish, too, and I want to spend a lot of time here and make things better. Those ten years go by so quickly because there’s no time. You lift your head up and months go by. I think that’s the aging process in general. I don’t care what field you’re in, you pour your heart into something and months do go by.

Stay Tuned | Attracting and Retaining Talent | St. Louis is a Big Small City

by Nine Network

Following up on Nine’s our robust body of work around entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development in our region, this week’s Stay Tuned is focused on how we attract and keep talented individuals in St. Louis— whether they’re starting companies, or future leaders in the companies we have now.  What is St. Louis specifically doing to attract and keep people here?  How does the ability to bring a vibrant, diverse workforce here and have implications for quality of life all over the region? 

Stay Tuned | Attracting and Retaining Talent | St. Louis is a Big Small City

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St. Louis: Gateway to good dining

by Restaurant Hospitality, Eric Stoessel

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Kevin Nashan has been serving up his New American cuisine at Sidney Street Café for 10 years.

Judging by the friends and caliber of cooks who came to Sidney Street Café for the restaurant’s 10-year anniversary bash in January, chef/owner Kevin Nashan is an affable guy with some serious skills. It says a lot when the local competition and well-known chefs from around the country take time from their business to help celebrate someone else’s milestone.

Gerard Craft, Josh Galliano and Kevin Willmann left their St. Louis restaurants for the 10-course dinner, while Sean Brock (Charleston), Kelly English (Memphis), Randy Lewis (San Francisco), the Sheerin brothers (Chicago), John Shields (DC) and others jetted in from all over the country.

There’s no doubt Nashan, a four-time Beard semifinalist, could be working in one of those bigger markets, but he has made St. Louis home. And he’s spent the last decade helping put it on the culinary map.

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Nashan hopes everyone feels welcome in his casually elegant restaurant.

You grew up in New Mexico, went to school and later worked in New York (CIA Hyde Park and Daniel) and spent time in well-known restaurants in Chicago and Spain. How did you land in St. Louis?

I went to college here—my undergrad was at St. Louis University—and went off to culinary school and then took out the trash in so many restaurants. My wife is from here and I always wanted to come back. I had a great experience at SLU and this town has always felt like home.

You planned to open a new restaurant when you returned to St. Louis, but instead bought an existing one that had been pretty successful for 13 years. How quickly were you able to make it your own?

It was a patience game. Some people think food is pissing in a corner and telling everyone how good you are. It’s not that, it’s making people happy and running a business. It made no sense to change things right away. We already had a restaurant that was well-known for certain things, so it was more like a gardener taking time to grow something. The slow approach panned out.

What was St. Louis’ dining scene like when you took over Sidney Street Café?

There wasn’t a lot of creativity. There were some chefs utilizing farms, but for the most part, everyone just followed what everyone else was doing: a lot of steak restaurants with toasted ravioli.

Was it hard to operate on the higher end and evolve in a city not known for its dining?

It’s been a little bit of a challenge, and maybe more for our customers. You want to evolve, coming from Daniel, but it’s difficult. People enjoy eating a certain way and you have to almost take them on a ride. The one great thing we’ve always had in our pocket was the farms. We don’t have to travel to get product shipped in. That’s one of the beautiful things about the Midwest: We have everything at our fingertips. At the end of the day, it’s all about good food. We wanted to do it in a creative manner, and now a lot more people are doing that here. It’s been an education for our customers and us.

It’s grown by leaps and bounds. There are probably 20 to 25 really good restaurants, lots of young talent and people moving back here and setting roots. It’s a town that you can take a few days to get through. There’s incredible barbecue at Pappy’s and other great restaurants like Niche, Farmhaus, Mai Lee, Tony’s and more. It has a lot to offer.

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Nashan has a garden stretching 100 yards around his parking lot. It features approximately 50 different varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Neighbors help keep an eye on it and are allowed to share in the bounty.

How does your restaurant today compare to the one 10 years ago?

It’s changed a lot. It’s sharper. As the years go by, you hone in on your vision and make things simpler. We try to be as elegant without being pretentious. It’s always a work in progress.

Has it lived up to your original vision?

Honestly, I didn’t have a vision of what I wanted. My background was all over the place and I just wanted to cook food that people would enjoy. I didn’t want to cook fancy stuff. I wanted to have that plumber here and the mayor, too. I wanted everyone to experience it. It’s a rustic place with no stuffiness.

Do you ever wish you were in a bigger market?

People ask me that all the time. If I could do it all over, I’d still be in St. Louis. Period. It’s been an incredible ride and we’ve been very fortunate to get to where we are now. It’s been awesome just to see the town grow. It should never be about you or exposure. It’s cooler to be a part of something like a whole movement or a community growing. St. Louis will be a force to be reckoned with in the next five years.

This really seems like a family affair for you.

Family is a huge part of this. My wife (Mina) helps with all the numbers and the business side and my brother (Chris) runs the front of the house and wine program.

Do you ever think about a second restaurant?

I definitely want to and think it’s going to happen sooner than not. I never really thought about it before, but I’ve changed gears lately.

Behind-The-Scenes Photos: Sidney Street Cafe’s 10th Anniversary Dinner

by Feast, Corey Woodruff 

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An extraordinary amount of culinary talent was on display last night in Sidney Street Cafe’s kitchen, as the beloved Benton Park restaurant celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a star-studded chef dinner.

Well-known local and national chefs turned out eight incredible wine-paired courses, and we were on hand to capture it all.

Cocktails and passed apps by Sidney Street Cafe chef Kevin Nashan, Farmhaus chef Kevin Willmann, The Libertine chef Josh Galliano, Basso chef Patrick Connolly and Blackberry Farm’s Michael Sullivan kicked off the evening.

THE MENU

First Course
Scallops cured in herbs, butter, mustard and elderflower
Paired with Brunn Gruner Veltliner, Austria 2012
John Shields (Washington D.C.)

Second Course
Oysters: Bay, pasture and earth. Paired with Schramsberg Sparkling, Demi Sec, North Coast, California 2008
Randy Lewis (San Francisco)

Third Course
Cauliflower, fleur de la vallee, lamb jus, lemon brown butter, crème fraîche, egg
Paired with Schafer-Frohlich, Bockenauer Riesling, Kabinett, Germany 2011
Gerard Craft (Craft Restaurants Ltd.)

Fourth Course
Grains, brassicas, sesame, tofu and hoisin
Paired with Domaine Pierre De La Grange Muscadet Sur Lie, France 2011
Patrick Sheerin (Trencherman, Chicago)

Fifth Course
Butterfish, gulf shrimp, cornbread and collard pudding and potlikker
Paired with Harford Court Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2011
Kelly English (Restaurant Iris & Second Line, Memphis)

Sixth Course
Scarpinocc, Hanna farms masa, smoked guanciale, chicken liver and sorghum
Paired with Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Italy 2010
Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer

Seventh Course
Swabian Hog with heirloom pumpkin, slowly cooked in its juices, black truffle and crunchy farro
Paired with Bergstrom Pinot Noir, Cumberland Reserve, Willamette Valley 2011
Sean Brock (McCrady’s & Husk, Charleston, SC; Husk Nashville, Nashville)

Eighth Course
Shiitake, Satsuma, pistachio and truffle
Paired with Le Tertre Du Lys D’or Sauternes, Bordeaux, France 2007
Bob Zugmaier (Sidney Street Cafe)

Sidney Street Café, 2000 Sidney St., Benton Park, 314.771.5777, sidneystreetcafe.com