Adrenaline Junkie Joseph Hemp V Finds a Home in the Kitchen
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.