Chef Chat: Matt Bessler on Taking Over at The Libertine

Categories: Chef Chat

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The Libertine's executive chef Matt Bessler. | Mabel Suen

"My family used to joke that I couldn't hit a nail straight," Matt Bessler laughs when asked about how he got into cooking. "So they sent me off to help out Mom in the kitchen." The Libertine's (7927 Forsyth Boulevard; 314-862-2999) new executive chef credits his tight-knit family with showing him the importance of food at an early age, making the family dinners he helped prepare a mandatory event. "You got in trouble if you weren't at the dinner table," he recalls.

See Also: Chef Josh Galliano Leaving The Libertine; Matt Bessler Named New Executive Chef (UPDATED)

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Chef Chat: Pizzino's Jim Zimmerman Builds His Pizzas on a Flour Foundation

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Jim Zimmerman of Pizzino. | Mabel Suen

It's no surprise that Jim Zimmerman makes some mighty good pizza: The Pizzino (7600 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-240-5134) owner has baking in his blood. Zimmerman comes from a long line of Lithuanian bakers dating back over three centuries. His grandfather founded Cahokia Flour Company, a major player in the artisanal baking movement; Zimmerman worked there for decades.

See Also: Review: Pizzino Uses a Baker's Precision for Memorable Pies

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Marina and John Backes Bring a Little Bit of Jersey to Circle B Ranch

Categories: Chef Chat

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Marina and John Backes of Circle B Ranch. | Compliments of Marina Backes

Circle B Ranch's Marina Backes laughs when she recalls the reaction of her friends and family in New Jersey to the news that she and her husband John were moving to rural Missouri to raise hogs. "They were really unsure about the whole thing. Actually, I think they're all still quite skeptical."

See Also: My Week of Eating Locally -- and What I Learned

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Chef Chat: Tom Schmidt on Leaping into the Fire at Salt + Smoke

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Tom Schmidt, owner of Salt + Smoke. | Jennifer Silverberg

Tom Schmidt admits that opening Salt + Smoke (6525 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-0200) was an enormous leap of faith. "My wife was pregnant with our first child, and there were about five different articles published in local papers about how there are too many barbecue spots opening up and that we were all going to fail miserably," the Salt + Smoke owner recalls. "Loyal customers of Nico were coming in every day to tell me I was making a huge mistake. I stood to lose my business, my house, my passion and reputation, and the security of my family. It was absolute insanity."

See Also: Salt + Smoke distinguishes itself in the crowd of new St. Louis barbecue

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Brandon Stern on The Civil Life and St. Louis' DIY Spirit

Categories: Chef Chat

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Brandon Stern of The Civil Life Brewing Company. | Mabel Suen

The Civil Life Brewing Company's (3714 Holt Avenue) Brandon Stern wasn't sure about his career path when he first got into the beer industry. In fact, he thought he was going to be a plumber -- until a part-time job delivering pizzas for a Chicago brewpub put him on an entirely different course.

"I came to this through a lot of twists and tumbles," Stern laughs. "I started out working at a brewery and pizzeria called Piece in Chicago. I had some ideas about beer before then, but not a lot. That's where my big exposure happened."

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Chef Chat: Mike Randolph Goes from Public Service to Público

Categories: Chef Chat

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Restaurateur Mike Randolph. | Greg Rannells

Mike Randolph thought he would go into public service -- but he didn't think it would take the shape that it did.

"I went to school for political science," the chef and owner of Público (6679 Delmar Boulevard; 314-833-5780) explains. "I did an internship, but I couldn't get the job I wanted. I had all of this energy I wanted to use on the ground running campaigns, but I realized that wasn't going to happen."

See Also: A Look Inside Público, Mike Randolph's Newest Concept Featuring Latin-Inspired Cuisine

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Chef Chat: For Gooseberries' Kim Bond and Ross Lessor, Business Is Personal

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Ross Lessor and Kim Bond of Gooseberries | Mabel Suen

"Yeah, we get into arguments every now and then,"Gooseberries (2754 Chippewa Street; 314-577-6363) co-owner Kim Bond laughs. "We're pretty good at dropping it after a certain point though."

No, Bond is not offering relationship advice -- unless your relationship involves working long hours in a restaurant with your significant other. As co-owners of the eclectic Dutchtown South cafe, Bond and her partner of eighteen years Ross Lessor blur the line between their personal and professional lives, though Bond insists it's not as hard as you'd think.

See Also: Review: Gooseberries Pleases Herbivores and Omnivores Alike

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Chef Chat: Scott Sandler Makes Edible Art at Pizzeoli

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Scott Sandler of Pizzeoli. | Mabel Suen

Scott Sandler started out making pizzas as a means of creative expression. "I've always had an artistic inclination," the Pizzeoli (1928 South 12th Street; 314-449-1111) owner states. "I wanted to do something with art as a living, but I wasn't sure how to do it -- you can't really make a living selling paintings."

Pizza, however, is a different story, and Sandler was happy to follow that path: "I consider what I do to be edible art."


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Chef Chat: Leon Augustus Braxton Jr. of Miss Leon's on the Joys of Southern Comfort

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Leon Augustus Braxton Jr., a.k.a "Miss Leon." | Mabel Suen

Leon Augustus Braxton Jr., the soul behind Miss Leon's (3960 Chouteau Avenue; 314-652-0011) soul food, insists you refer to him as a cook and not a chef. He wasn't formally trained, he'll tell you, unless you count the untold hours he spent in his grandmother's kitchen.

Call him whatever you want, but there is no denying he is a master of Southern cooking.


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Chef Chat: Lona Luo on Lona's Lil Eats on Loving Durian -- and Hating MSG

Categories: Chef Chat

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Lona Luo of Lona's Lil Eats. | Jennifer Silverberg

Far from her Fox Park storefront and well before word of her dumplings spread throughout Soulard Market, Lona Luo was hard at work honing her craft in remote southwestern China. Distance-wise, it's about as far away as you can get from her south-city restaurant Lona's Lil Eats (2199 California Avenue; 314-925-8939), though you'd never know this from tasting the food.

See Also: At Lona's Lil Eats, Huge Flavor From a Tiny Village in China: Review

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