Thursday, January 5, 2012

Last issue of Feast magazine...

Alright, I was flipping through the pages of the latest FEAST magazine when I noticed a long feature article.  This article involved a discussion with what FEAST considers to be the "region's most innovative entrepreneurs" and while 7 out of the 8 guests were considered experts in the field of culinary, only one was in architecture and design.  (So, it barely sounded like a professionally gathered group of individuals, unless all they were going to talk about was food.)

So, at this discussion was:
Stanley Browne, owner of Robust Wine Bar and certified sommelier
Maddie Earnest, co-owner of Local Harvest Grocery, Cafe' and Catering
Gerard Craft, owner of Craft Restaurants Ltd.
Tom Niemeier, owner of Space Architecture and Design
David Wolfe, co-founder of Urban Chestnut Brewing Co.
Josh Ferguson, co-owner of Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co.
Brian Pelletier, owner and chef chocolatier of Kakao Chocolate
John Perkins, chef and owner of entre

Now, the first thing that grabs my attention, is that this group met to discuss the current state of the culinary industry and its future, in Saint Louis.  So, why were these people selected?  I'm not saying that these people are not highly respected or professionals, but it is only my thought that if you wanted to get a discussion going about the current state of the culinary industry, then perhaps you should get people that have more to do with it.  So, who would I get?

A member of the Barroni family, current owners of Al's Restaurant, one of the oldest and continuously run restaurant in St. Louis, for over 85 years
Bob Dierberg, owner of Dierburg stores, which is a St. Louis based store and chain
David Ringle, sommelier at The Market Place with over 20 years of wine experience
Larry Forgione, owner of An American Place, and the first internationally recognized chef to open a restaurant in St. Louis
Catherine Neville, owner and leader of FEAST magazine
A member of the Stuckmeyer family, a family owned and operated all natural, non GMO farm, selling food to the St. Louis area
Chef Borchardt, Director of L'Ecole Academy
Kevin Willmann, owner and founder of Farmhaus, St. Louis's best farm to table restaurant
Maddie Earnest,  co-owner of Local Harvest Grocery, Cafe' and Catering

Here are my thoughts: For you or I to make something delicious or buy something, Dierburgs probably has it. A wine expert with plenty of experience is better than anyone else. Larry Forgione is not only the father of an Iron Chef but also knows the St. Louis fine dining scene better than anyone else; he probably invented it. The Stuckmeyer's have produce that can be bought at many grocers in the St. Louis area and they do not use any GMO or anything engineered.  Catherine is in charge of FEAST magazine so we need her.  Chef Borchardt is the Director of L'Ecole and as it is the only cooking school in St. Louis now, then it would be a good idea to talk to him.  Kevin Willmann is the owner of Farmhaus which is an excellent farm to table restaurant for not a lot of dough.  As for Maddie, I have never been to Harvest, but think the idea of a green cafe and catering company is very nice.

So, besides my selection, how would I answer or look at some of the questions and topics they discussed?

Well, one thing discussed was how most of the customers who go to these restaurants are looking for that connection between the food and the location.  Most foodies in this area are localvores and like the idea of eating a piece of meat that was from an animal grazing in Southern Illinois or Western Missouri.  Even more so, I have made apple butter, wonderful, sweet, sugar free, apple butter, from apples at Eckert's farm.  I have also made wonderful corn relish from corn grown by the Stuckmeyer's farm, a mere 1/2 mile from where I live.  The idea of eating something local or just knowing where it came from is a big thing now and many more people are interested in this.  I remember a tasting I had at Noodles & Company at South County Mall where my family and I learned that they don't use any ingredients that they cannot find locally.  Essentially, they are a farm to table restaurant as well.

Gerard Craft said it best when he stated that "the need for a 3 pound steak is ridiculous", when talking about how people are wanting more and more food at restaurants.  That is exactly what Larry Forgione was complaining about with his restaurant.  He would serve a 12 ounce steak and people wanted more.  A 12 ounce steak is a perfectly good size for a great quality and well prepared piece of meat.  If you had anything more it would overdo it.

FEAST also pointed out a good point, most people watch TV and see all of this food and buy food but have no idea how to prepare the food.  I think this has to do with the "cooking" and "food" channels having more reality shows about who is the best of this, than a one on one show with a chef showing you how to cook something.  I don't mean to sound mean, but one of the best shows they had for a while was "How to Boil Water."  You had a chef teaching people how to pan cook chicken.  A lot of people don't know how to do this!  Also, for those that can cook chicken or boil water, Alton Brown's show "Good Eats" is a staple as unlike anyone else, I've ever seen on TV or elsewhere, instead of just showing you how to cook chicken in a pan, he tells you how it works, using science, puppets, and some acting.

Brian Pelletier pointed out that some people don't cook.  I recently took some sunchokes and threw them in a rice cooker with some chicken stock and quinoa and make a delicious meal.  I am one of 4 brothers in my family.  I know that for a fact, if you took away any cooking knowledge I had gained while doing my various degrees, I'd probably be on par with my older brother.  But my younger two, don't feel the need to cook food for themselves and seem to be content eating their cans of tuna, pound of fried bacon or Jack in the Box fried tacos, which tend to eat through the bags. I don't know how you would get people interested in cooking, besides doing home cooking parties or something like that.

Gerard also suggests that chefs are basically educators, teaching people about foods.  I think that is only 85% true.  I can tell you about some strawberry caviar which I have made.  I can tell you the process of what I did, just like most waiters do.  But, until I come to your table and show you what I am doing, you may not get it still.  I know of worldly and well known chefs who still don't get molecular gastronomy.  The thing is though, there is a secret in cooking.  The secret is the recipe.  Most chefs don't want to divulge anything about their dishes for fear that someone may take it and undercut them.  But, I would take that risk.  I would do a restaurant that while people could come in and try things on the menu, for an added price, I would take people to the kitchen and show them what the recipe is and how to prepare it.  I would not be afraid to teach people or even just a single customer, what I did and why it works.

Well, then they talk about taxes, license fees and costs that make opening restaurants in St. Louis a hurdle.

Finally, towards the middle of the article, we get to the heart of the problem at St. Louis: transportation. I think I have stressed or voiced concerns of this issue before and always see an issue.  St. Louis has a Metro Link and while it is a great idea, not having a cop on every tram is a bad idea.  They went from being nice and safe to being a spot where crooks and criminals could now access every neighborhood. They discussed how St. Louis doesn't take care of their tourist areas and doesn't have any tourist destinations.  I wrote about Union Station recently because the owners view it as a destination and the rest of St. Louis views it as a hole in the ground where nothing is anymore.  It is now a shopping mall with probably one less retailer than Crestwood Mall (which is a hard thing to accomplish).

Josh Ferguson said it best "there's all these restaurants promoting local Missouri stuff, but when you look at the wine list and no Missouri wines..." this is the core.  A few years back, my wife and I went to Hubert Keller's Sleek in the newly opened Lumiere.  While claiming that so much food was local, the most local ingredient came from Eureka.  The meat wasn't even from the Midwest.  When you go to the West coast or Las Vegas and they have Missouri beef on the menu at $30 for a 12 ounce steak and then you go to a local butcher and get the same cut for $8 or $9, it makes you wonder.  If our meat is so good that it is being served in other places, then why can't St. Louis restaurants use St. Louis or at least Missouri items?

Gerard also pointed out that some restaurants, like his while being in competition with other restaurants, are also friends with them.  This is something that I don't see much, even in St. Louis, but reminds me of Top Chef Masters.  On that Bravo Network show, chefs who are already famous, have nothing to lose as they compete for charity.  So, what you have is chefs not creating drama, fighting or even being mean to other chefs.  If during a competition a chef forgets an ingredient, he may ask the other chefs and someone may come up with extras for that chef to use.  No evil strategy, no game playing, just fun.  If a St. Louis chef also tells his clients that the bar down the street is a great place to go, of course he will gain business as well.  It is like the early days of the Internet with link trading.  It was also said that word of mouth is the real seller of a restaurant and as a blogger, I can relate to this.  I know that if I tell my friends about and write about a restaurant with a good review, people flock to that restaurant.  I know that I have personally brought in at least 4 adults to the Noodles & Company at the South County Mall, just based on what I wrote about when I won a tasting meal.  I may have brought in more, but no one told me.  People read my blog and it may not be for the reasons I intended but they do and they learn to trust me and what I say.  For this reason, people like me are important to the restaurants.  Basically, if I suggest that all 200+ fans of my site on Facebook, go to a restaurant, I'm pretty sure that a good amount will show up, just based on word of mouth.  Does that make me powerful?  Nah....  I think of it as still just a guy recommending things to his friends.

If you want to read more, please check out the article here at Feast:

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