Being Happy While You Cook and Learning to Love Bourbon: A Q&A with Joseph Hemp V of Robust

Categories: Chef's Choice
The most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Salt. Thyme is good. The herb and the actual thing of counting your minutes and keeping attention.

And a good attitude probably. You cook happy, it shows on your plates. Annie Gunn's taught me: Cooking 400 covers a night, you did it with a smile on your face, and you had fun doing it. You could mentally maintain your grill and still have a good time. Attitude is very important. If you're grumpy about something form home, it's going to show on your plate.

An ingredient you'll never allow in your kitchen? I'll try everything once. I've been surprised by ingredients that I thought were going to be disgusting and then I learned to like. Kim chi: smells like rotten shit, but you can eat it and taste it, and it's completely outside what it smells like.

Favorite kitchen tool? I would use my tongs for everything until I started working in the Craft houses, and then that big heavy Gray Kunz spoon became my go-to tool for everything. It fits nicely in your hand; it holds 2.5 ounces. Everything about it is made for [chefs]. If I don't have my tongs or that spoon, then a kitchen towel is the next thing that's going to be in my hand.

Favorite cookbook? It's like picking my favorite kid. I would say out of all my cookbooks -- I have the Kellers, I have the big books, the coffee-table ones -- I really like Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef [both Montreal restaurants], because it's hearty wintertime food. That's what I really like more than anything else. Can't cook it year-round, but I love looking at those pictures, trying to find a way to manipulate it to make it work down here.

Any advice or a favorite tip for the home cook? Every time I go somewhere and someone cooks for me, they always want to say it's not going to be as good as a restaurant. But if I'm not cooking, and I'm at home, and someone's cooking from scratch for me, that's going to taste ten times better than anything I can make. Heart and soul goes a long way. Home cooks need to realize, yeah, they're not professionally trained, but that doesn't make them bad cooks. Cooking at home should be fun, you shold enjoy what you're doing, eat it taste it, have fun.

What does St. Louis need more of? We have a lot of great chefs here doing great things. We need a lot less people criticizing it on Yelp or any type of website. You should be able to go out to a restaurant and critique it and say if you like something. That's what everybody else does. But there's certain levels that people need to understand that if they've never worked in a restaurant or been around it, they shouldn't critique.

People need to, especially with a brand-new restaurant, let them cut their teeth. Let them get a chance to get their shit in order. You've got to open a restaurant fast because you're spending money on overhead before you open. You want to have everything perfect, but sometimes you have to open with the intention of finishing some things later. There needs to be more understanding by a lot of people that critqiue restaurants that it is going to take time to get everything perfect.

This is part two. of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Joseph Hemp V of Robust. Read part one, a profile of Hemp, here. Part three, a recipe from Hemp, will be available Monday.

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Robust

227 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, MO

Category: Restaurant

Robust

635 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO

Category: Restaurant

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