Adrenaline Junkie Joseph Hemp V Finds a Home in the Kitchen

Categories: Chef's Choice
Hemp was already a big fan of Gerard Craft's restaurants, and Craft himself had eaten at Dressel's and told Hemp how much he enjoyed the food, so Hemp joined Craft's company as a sous chef. He worked as needed at Craft's restaurants for a while and then settled into a permanent spot running Taste in its first incarnation adjacent to the original Benton Park home of Niche. When Taste moved to the Central West End, Hemp moved over to Brasserie by Niche.

Meanwhile, Hemp and his wife learned they were expecting their second child, which led the chef to a career crossroads of sorts.

"I love [Craft's] restaurants, the environment. The chefs they have running each of those places are phenomenal. They have great heads on their shoulders, and they're making great food. But with the commitment it takes to get to that level, it's a young man's game -- it's next to impossible when you have kids."

Hemp took a step back, returning to Annie Gunn's as a line cook until his daughter was born. (His daughter is now two, his son five.) By this point he was ready to step back into the role of a chef, or at least a sous chef, and started asking around about job possibilites.

One of his friends, Eric Brenner thought he might have something. Formerly the owner of the late Moxy and now the chef at the new downtown spot Alumni, Brenner was at that point Robust's "chief culinary officer" and needed someone to lead both the original Webster Groves spot and the planned expansion to the new Mercantile Exchange development downtown.

For Hemp, Robust seemed a natural fit. For the notoriously tiny, unconventional kitchen in the Webster Groves location, he could call upon his experience in the equally tiny Taste.

"I waited about a month or two to make changes" to the menu, Hemp says. "I learned how tricky it is to create ideas in my head for food -- and then apply it to the kitchen. We have four induction cooktops. We have two tabletop convection ovens. We have this psycho oven that goes against all science and physics and everything else. Manipulating that environment to make things work -- it was fun."

The new downtown Robust has a much larger kitchen, but Hemp still faces a unique challenge and designing its menu: wine. Owner Stanley Browne assigns each dish a "Robust Factor," which matches with a certain body and flavor of wine.

"It's a process," explains Hemp. "Sometimes we'll think something looks good, and then he'l taste it and [say], 'There's way too much of this on here, no wine's going to work with this.

"He'll be my final palate. His mouth memory for wine is amazing."

For Hemp, who calls himself "more a beer guy," Robust presents yet another opportunity to continue his lifelong development as a chef.

"Stanley's been majorly involved in trying to get me away from beer into appreciating wine." he says. "I still have a hard time pulling the flavors out that he can smell: vanilla, tobacco."

He pauses and laughs. "I can smell that this wine tastes expensive."

This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Joseph Hemp V of Robust. Part two, a Q & A with Hemp, and part three, a recipe from Hemp, will be available on Friday.

Location Info


227 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, MO

Category: Restaurant


635 Washington Ave., St. Louis, MO

Category: Restaurant

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