Thursday, June 9, 2011

where is the culinary culture in Saint Louis?

This isn't an anti-Saint Louis bash, but more of how people can take such a great city and destroy it.  I lived most of my life in Saint Louis and I have to say that it is a great place to live.  It is not as violent as people think as only a few areas are the gang warfare areas but outside of those areas, it is safe and quiet.  It is hot in summer and frigid in winter and nice in between.

St. Louis is home to a multitude of farms and great foods and livestock.  As early as 1779, the Soulard Market allowed farmers to bring their fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products to the city to sell to anyone at rock bottom prices.  Some of the foods now are also organic and others are regular and all are for sale there.  Soulard Market is also the oldest food market West of the Mississippi.

Now, with what is there above, I have some issues with how people are treating Saint Louis:

1.  Saint Louis is not a food-mecca.  There is no super fancy restaurant in STL that requires many months of phone-ahead reservations.  I have tried to make reservations twice now, on a day or day before of a Saturday and both times I was told that the earliest seating I could get would be as early as 9:30 or even 10pm.  I'm sorry, but if you have a restaurant with only enough seating to sit 20-30 people, and you cannot seat anyone in before 9pm, then you need a bigger restaurant.  This is not Las Vegas, New York or even San Francisco.  No foot writer, foodie, blogger or critic is going to recommend your restaurant when they cannot get in.  Two times attempting to make a reservation at some restaurants in town, makes me think that I may not want to even review it.  I'm sorry, but of course the food writers of the RFT or Feast can get in, because they tell them ahead of time that they are a food writer.  There is an idea of being secretive about this job or you get different treatment.

2.  I've been a to a couple of restaurants in STL and the good ones have great food but the big issue is: I have only been to a very small group of restaurants in STL that have good food AND good service.  STL is not a food town, as much as everyone likes to think it is.  (Including me).  There are no restaurants making headway and doing anything so mind-bendingly impossibly new and shocking that it is changing the way food is served or cooked.  I have noticed that in these restaurants, there is a balance.  The balance is this: if the food is great, the service is not.  If the service is great, the food is not.  There are the few that have both great service and food and the other bottom few that are bad on both.  But, in Saint Louis here, people treat working at a restaurant as just a summer job or a college or high school job.  It is no big deal and they just deal with the masses and the food and such, until they get off so they can get on with their social life.  There is no passion anymore in food or serving food.  Likely because there are too many restaurants in STL.

3.  Two things here, aimed at a certain food writer.  First of all, he is only famous because he wrote a book describing his experience in the food industry form his point of view.  Yes, his story had drama, drugs, and rock and roll.  But, it was an isolated incident and not every chef does drugs, smokes or is full of drama.  This idea gives chefs a stereotype.  Combine that idea with the cost of cooking schools and you give chefs the same idea of doctors: coming out of school with more bills than they can handle.  So, chefs then try to make it and open restaurants that make money to pay off the bills.  But they make bad choices, like making cupcakes and selling them for more than $3 a piece.  Or deciding to spend their life in a coffee house making desserts while wondering why the coffee house has erratic hours and is closed most of the time. If someone would open a cafe making the cool stuff I make, then it would work.  (Are you an investor looking to open something new and different in STL, contact me).

4.  I am not complaining or ranting about the current food society and culture magazines for the metro area, but not everyone can afford winery trips.  I know that you have a periodical that reaches over 5,000 people and out of those people, maybe 100 can afford the high prices stuff you write about.  So, which is better: Is it better to write to those few people who are either retired or millionaires living in STL about food and culture?  Or is it better to write to the millions of people under the age of 60 who don't live in Clayton or Ladue and are interested in what restaurant has the best grilled cheese or the best BBQ?

5.  No one uses anything local.  A few years ago, my wife and I went to Sleek, in the casino and on the menu, with each dish was a description as to what is in it as well as where the food came from.  The waiter was also good at describing the process of cooking and also where the food was from.  What got me was that none of the ingredients came from St. Louis.  Not even a single pea came from Soulard Market.  As mentioned up there ^, you have a huge outdoor market with the best farmers in the area.  You also have small community farms and other gardens in the area and here you have a restaurant, preaching how it uses local ingredients and the closest to STL that it could find was from Eureka!?!  The dish with the ingredients from Eureka, used baby potatoes and carrots.  I am growing carrots on my front porch right now!  Why couldn't the restaurant grow them?  Or why couldn't the chef grow them at his house?  On the other side of the river, in Columbia, surrounded by farmers selling food at their stands on the side of the road, I am perplexed at why restaurants use food that is delivered from California.  I know that there is some mark-up in cost and so forth so if a restaurant doesn't buy local they can buy from Florida and raise the cost of the dish to make up for the cost of the food.  But, wouldn't it be better if the food was bought just down the street and then that same dish could be sold for a few dollars cheaper?

6.  In Saint Louis, for some reason, food is tied with entertainment, although it is not.  In Saint Louis, there used be a section of the city called the Gaslight District, where people would get entertainment at restaurants while eating.  This type of restaurant that combined the both of them died out and was replaced by night clubs, which served food.  For instance, I had a friend who worked at a Vodka bar that was supposed to serve food but didn't until a year later because they had problems with their kitchen.  Their classy and designer interior was buzz-worthy and in food articles by local periodicals, their food was reviewed, but yet it was not available to the general public.  This meant that this bar and many others like it, while serving food, didn't really want to.  People in STL don't go to a night club to eat, they go to dance, or take pictures and tweet and foursquare or facebook each other.  It is even so much that across the river in Sauget, the strip club called The Penthouse Club, has a full kitchen in their VIP area with good food.  Nothing fancy, although it considers itself a steak house, but you get food and the entertainment of a nice girl walking by or sitting and chatting with you for a bit.  This type of dining with entertainment doesn't work everywhere and sometimes works in Las Vegas, but not always.  Now, I know that there is a new spot opening soon which is supposed to be bringing a Vaudville-type show with a dinner course of food.  Although, according to what I have seen so far, the prices resemble those of Las Vegas.  I remember seeing advertised around Facebook that tickets for a dinner show would be as much as $100 a person, not including drinks.  The issue with this place in general is this: it is not really a supper club.  Supper clubs became famous during the 30's and 40's as a one stop shop where someone would come for cocktails and stay through dinner with nightclub entertainment.  It wasn't for the rich though and everyone could afford going as they were mainly tourist attractions.

7.  Star power?  Where is the STL star power or celebrity chef?  Most likely not in STL, since STL's idea of a culinary school is one that is less than 10 years old.  On top of that, as I expressed earlier, it looks like the Associates in cooking is about $37,000.  Who has that kind of money?  Also, if you are opening a restaurant or wanting to star on Top Chef, no one will know where you learned unless you went to the CIA.  The other issue being that being a celebrity chef in STL is different than being a celebrity chef in other cities.  Here, the local news anchor is a celebrity.  For all I know, since I write a food blog, I could be a celebrity.  When they had celebrities vote for the food competition at Iron Fork, they used writers for the RFT and local news anchors.  So, what I am suggesting really is that there are some famous chefs that should choose STL as their spot.  When you go to NYC, you don't eat at Joe Smith's restaurant down the street.  You eat at places like Bobby Flay's, Morimoto's or even Joel Robuchon's.  What is there in STL?  The last celebrity chef, Larry Fargone, left and closed his restaurant a year ago.  So, what is there left?

Maybe, one day, me and a bunch of investors will change the way Saint Louis is viewed by foodies and food experts.  Maybe one day I'll have my small cafe where I serve fried sage leaves with bacon ice cream or a wine bar with small and tasty sugar free appetizers.  Who knows.  I just know that as I grow older, I see more and more restaurants open and more and more of them close after a few years because they are guilty of a few things like the above.  St. Louis, is not a big city.  It may have been until the 1960's, or even until the 1950's, but now it seems that it is just a spot for restaurants and night clubs to open up one year and close the next.  Investors move their restaurants further and further away from the downtown areas and make you drive further and further to get to anywhere.  I just wish St. Louis would do something with their culinary culture.  Perhaps start an Iron Chef or Chopped competition once every year or so. 


  1. The best restaurant I have ever eaten at was RM, in Las Vegas. You have a seafood restaurant which is able to get the freshest ingredients, in the middle of the desert. So, why can't St. Louis do the same?

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