Posted On: 01/01/2018
Line Cook, Vista Ramen, Age: 30
Why Watch Her: She’s cooking circles around all the dudes in town.
If the restaurant inside Hana Chung’s mind was a dinner party, you’d so want that invite. The table would be crowded with everyone from her Korean-born parents to her pizzaolo husband and the buddies she’s met inside the long list of local kitchens on her resume: folks from Byrd & Barrel and Juniper swapping stories with her current Vista Ramen kitchen mates.
The music would be loud and the guests would be louder; wafts from the kitchen would be salty, sweet and acidic. The food: “hardy, home-ish” Korean dishes her mom and grandma used to make her
back home. “Right now, food is kind of weird, almost segregated,” Chung said. “You have your really fancy food that only a small percentage of people in St. Louis can eat. I think there’s a market for good, local food that everyone can afford, and that’s my main goal.”
Despite her high-profile resume, Chung had one request when she began at Vista. “By choice, Hana kind of wanted to get back to just cooking. She’s a line cook here,” said Vista chef-owner Chris Bork. “That’s her position, but she’s a lot more than that. She will cook circles around a lot of the dudes that I’ve known. She’s just hardworking, and you could see instantly – Hana knows how this works.”
In an industry known for tempers that flare higher than kitchen fires, Chung has the rare gift of an easygoing attitude. “She was with us toward the end of Randolfi’s,” said Mike Randolph, chef-owner of the now-closed restaurant. “Those were some pretty hairy times. She kept us sane through really long hours and short staffs those last weeks. She would leave these little notes of encouragement around the stations for the cooks. She was a positive influence at a time when we really needed one.”
So, what’s next for Chung and her Korean street food spot dream? For now, Chung is learning more about her craft and spreading good vibes wherever she goes. “How can you not be happy when you’re in the kitchen dancing to Aretha and making food you like?” she asked. Preach.
– Stacy Schultz
Vista Ramen, 2609 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.797.8250, vistaramen.com
Head Butcher and Sous Chef,
Truffles Butchery, Age: 27
Why Watch Him: He was a born butcher.
What do you do if your kid tells you he likes cutting raw meat? Hide the knives? If you’re Eric Tirone’s family, you start buying whole chickens. Tirone’s older brother, Chris Tirone (a member of the Ones to Watch Class of 2011), convinced their parents to let them practice breaking down the animals. “My dad said it was a little creepy hearing a little kid say he liked cutting raw meat,” Eric said. “But it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
At 17, he was helping his big brother butcher whole lambs and fish at An American Place. “Eric shared the same interests I had: sports, cooking, hunting, fishing,” Chris explained. “When I got into cooking, he enjoyed it as well and continued to mess around in the kitchen. Even at home I wouldn’t let him skate by.”
To understand Eric Tirone, all you have to do is watch him break down a massive hog with the skill of a surgeon and finesse of a ninja. It’s that virtuosity that got him promoted to head butcher at New Orleans’ famous, swine-centric Cochon Restaurant in just one year. There, he was butchering at least four pigs a week. Now, at Truffles Butchery, he butchers about one a week and teaches classes.
Does Eric Tirone want his own place? “Oh my God, absolutely! It’s been my end goal my entire life,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t been doing all this for shits and giggles. I can’t see myself doing anything else!” And when that time comes, after “knocking out a few big-boy things” like his wedding next year, you can bet the Tirone brothers will be back, standing side-by-side in the kitchen. – Michael Renner
Truffles Butchery, 9202 Clayton Road, Ladue, 314.567.9100, todayattruffles.com
Chef de Cuisine, Público, Age: 27
Why Watch Him: His hands are in the fire, but his head is in the books.
You could say Bryan Russo’s career started at Taco Bell. He did, after all, snag a job at the fast-food chain with his bandmates in high school, leading him to ditch music and sign up for culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu.
Or you could say it started with his Italian grandma and her ungodly good biscuits. One bite and he swore off the canned stuff forever, a revelation that took him down the flour-dusted rabbit hole of sourdough trials and fermentation experiments he’s still winding down today.
But no matter where he started, now he’s here: running a James Beard Award-nominated kitchen. “Bryan came on before Público was even built out,” explained Público chef-owner Mike Randolph. “He started as a cook and really quickly worked himself up to a sous chef. When we shook up the kitchen about six months ago, it made so much sense to make Bryan chef de cuisine. He is responsible beyond his years. He’s eager to learn.”
More like hungry for it. Russo doesn’t believe in secrets, and he doesn’t think you should either. He wants to learn any way he can: with his head in a book, from the guy on the line or trolling bread forums in his spare time. “I went into [Público] not knowing a damn thing about Latin food,” Russo said. “It was, hey, I want those burnt tortillas in my mole. I want those ash-roasted carrots in this thing. It was a lot of learning; I couldn’t have done it without the other guys in the kitchen.”
And his education continues. At Público, he’s messing around with cooking bread in the ashes of the wood-burning fire. “Shove it in there, and in a minute or two you have this ugly looking thing,” he explained. “You knock the coal right off, and it’s got this really nice, caramel-y, tasty bread.” Every item on the menu has his fingerprints on it, most the delectable result of collaboration with Randolph – or “Coach,” as Russo calls him. On the side, he’s baking sourdough for Squatter’s Café, where they slather it with fresh ricotta and serve it simply with the season’s brightest bounty.
The only thing Russo knows about his future is that it will involve open fire, something with bread. When you never stop learning, just about anything is possible. – Stacy Schultz
Público, 6679 Delmar Blvd., University City, 314.833.5780, publicostl.com
Chef de cuisine, Pastaria, Age: 26
Why Watch Her: She’s the next big thing in the Niche Food Group empire.
Fresh-faced, 17-year-old Evy Swoboda arrived at The Lodge of Four Seasons at Lake of the Ozarks to accept a garde manger position on the word of a friend. There was just one problem: The chef had hired her, but human resources hadn’t.
Swoboda was undeterred. Armed with a resume boasting a two-year stint as Subway sandwich artist, she talked her way into the job and a career crash course.
“I didn’t even know how to cut a pineapple,” she said. “I just faked it until I made it, basically. Read a lot, pretended I knew a bit more than I did until I knew what I was doing.”
Confidence, dedication and a whole lot of practice eventually led her to the grill station at 44 Stone Public House in Columbia, Missouri, and then to Pastaria shortly after it opened in 2013. The eager line cook rocketed up the chain of command, landing at chef de cuisine under executive chef Ashley Shelton.
“She can read my mind,” Shelton said. “I can give her a look and she understands, ‘You need me on pizza.’ She understands, ‘That burned.’”
There’s no doubt Swoboda can cook. She creates daily pizza specials and recently took over the entire menu of the popular Clayton restaurant. However, it’s Swoboda’s deft leadership on the line that sets her apart.
“I can be a little more hammer, and she’s a little more honey,” Shelton said. “She has a way with the line cooks that is very friendly. … She can get her point across without having to yell or be stern.”
It’s a quality Niche Food Group owner Gerard Craft has noticed, and the reason he wanted Swoboda to help open Pastaria’s Nashville location. “That’s one thing a lot of people overlook,” Craft said. “They might be really good cooks, but they might be terrible, terrible managers. I think she handles herself really well. She’s really well organized. She’s a really good teacher.”
Swoboda’s rapid ascent at Niche Food Group won’t stop if she has anything to say about it. “I want to continue helping open other Pastarias and hopefully get my own one day,” she said. “I definitely want one of the restaurants.” – Catherine Klene
Pastaria, 7734 Forsyth Blvd., Clayton, 314.862.6603, eatpastaria.com/stlouis
Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel
Sous chefs, Vicia, Ages: 33
Why watch them: The best new restaurant in St. Louis couldn’t run without them.
To be the best, you’ve got to have direction. Aside from growing up in Illinois and working as Vicia sous chefs, that’s perhaps the biggest thing Patrick Seibold and Alec Schingel have in common: a lodestar commitment to improving agriculture through their work with farmers as chefs. It’s why they’re both at Vicia now. “But also,” Schingel added and Seibold would agree, “I don’t like the idea of working at the second-best restaurant in St. Louis. I just don’t. I want to work at the best.”
The two have been chasing better food sourcing through some of the best restaurants in the country for most their careers. Seibold went from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro straight out of culinary school to Danny Meyer and Michael Anthony’s Gramercy Tavern to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. Asked about this laundry list of America’s culinary elite, the clean-cut chef matter-of-factly explained he thought Keller’s focus on technique would be a good introduction to fine dining, he was attracted to Anthony’s vegetable-centric philosophy, and he wanted to experience Chez Panisse’s relationships with farmers. Wouldn’t we all, though?
If it sounds like Seibold had to have plotted that precise course his entire life, that’s probably because he grew up in a restaurant family and always knew he wanted to be a chef. Schingel, equally intentional though perhaps less methodical, got into cooking because he was sick of eating Hot Pockets every day in college. Then he became obsessed.
After a sudden swerve into culinary school, he worked his way up the St. Louis food ladder to sous chef at Gerard Craft’s now-closed Niche. When Schingel later landed a stage position at In de Wulf in Belgium, his experience with farmers and foraging at the remote Michelin-starred restaurant sparked an increased interest in sourcing. That made his next gig at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns a dream job.
“It was the opportunity to take a graduate school mentality,” Schingel said. “[It was a place to] learn how sourcing products works, how to talk about farming practices and intelligent methods.”
It’s also where he met Vicia chef-owner Michael Gallina, then chef de cuisine at Blue Hill. “Alec is exactly what I’m looking for in someone to work close with – very intelligent, very hard-working, very meticulous,” Gallina said.
To succeed at a high-concept place like Vicia, you need to be what Gallina called an intelligent chef – not a “head-down cook” who just gets the work done, goes home and doesn’t think about it. “This isn’t a 9-to-5 job for Patrick and Alec. They take it home with them. They research. They read books. They’re constantly diving into what’s going to be next, trying to be ahead of the ballgame.”
Schingel is the first person in the kitchen each day; as daytime sous, he runs the lunch service and Vicia’s whole bread program. Seibold helps Gallina run dinner and handles most of the restaurant’s butchery. “He’s taking on a lot of ownership with the nighttime cooks,” Gallina said. “He’s also a very intelligent person. He’s got a lot of incredible ideas.”
Gallina also rhapsodized on both the sous chefs’ teaching abilities. But, most important to Schingel and Seibold, Gallina wants them to take more ownership of the menu and to be more involved in working with producers.
“I definitely couldn’t do it without them,” Gallina said. “This restaurant wouldn’t be half of what it is without the help of those two.”
After navigating a major restaurant opening (both came on months before Vicia’s first service), Schingel and Seibold leave us with only two questions about their next steps: when and where? – Heather Hughes
Vicia, 4260 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, 314.553.9239, viciarestaurant.com
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