Posted On: 05/31/2005
Apositive attitude is the key ingredient behind Destination Diningís executive chef Day Alexander. ďA willingness to always give something a chance,Ē he said. ďI saw an ad in the paper from the owners, Jim and Cathy Hoyle. They had this interesting idea for a new concept thatís never, to my knowledge, been tried in St. Louis. We felt comfortable with each other and this concept appealed me.Ē
Whatís the best way to describe what you are doing at Destination Dining?
Total immersion. Each month we feature a different cuisine from a different part of the world. We change the entire menu, the dťcor and the entertainment to give our patrons a fine dining experience unlike they can get anywhere [else] in St. Louis. For example, one of our recent destinations was Morocco. We had a tent set up in the back, which I loved and was sorry we had to take it down. We had seafood, meat and poultry entrťes along with a variety of appetizers, wines, desserts and, of course, belly dancers.
How do you plan for such an extreme makeover every month?
Itís a challenge, thatís for sure. I read a lot, especially cookbooks. In June we are featuring Hungary. Iíve recently gotten started on the research. Iím thinking strudels, an upscale version of goulash. I see a Lipizzaner Stallion somewhere in the dťcor. Nothing definite yet. Thatís whatís so much fun about this concept. I easily get bored, so while Iíve mastered this monthís menu, Iím already thinking and experimenting with the flavors and textures for the next theme. I work about four to six weeks out.
How did you get involved in the culinary profession?
My dad owned bars and restaurants in Californiaís Bay Area, so I grew up around the business. Iíve worked every phase of it. About 10 years ago I decided I had to get serious about my life and what I was going to contribute to society. I knew I loved to cook and once I seriously began studying the techniques, I realized that cooking is my passion. I went to school in California, then studied under some of St. Louisí finest chefs.
How did you wind up in St. Louis?
I had family in Carbondale and I lived Cape Girardeau for a long time, but I knew that if I truly wanted a career as a chef, Iíd have to go to a bigger city. Since I have a 6-year-old son still in Cape I wanted to be close by, so I came to St. Louis. There is a lot of opportunity here and the people love to dine out. Iíve worked in many, many venues here.
Whatís your best trait?
Iím driven. Driven to create new dishes and flavors that St. Louisans havenít tried yet.
Driven by what?
A love of food. A desire to create a good meal and provide a place where people can relax. The most telling sign that Iíve created an excellent meal is when patrons linger. If a meal and the atmosphere are good, people usually linger and are in no hurry to leave. If it doesnít do those things, they usually leave right away.
What do you like to do when youíre not working?
Stay at home. Enjoy my son. I guess you could say Iím a homebody; I like to be at home. If I go out, I like to play pool.
Day is an unusual name. How did you get it?
My parents were hippies. They wanted something nontraditional.
What was your biggest flop?
Some years ago, in Chicago, I created a cold eel dish. Bad, bad, bad. I donít know what I was thinking because even now that sounds awful.
What task do you hate to do the most?
Anything thatís tedious. Once I had to make 1,200 Parmesan lace baskets at one of the local country clubs. It was horrible after the first three.
What advice would you give an aspiring chef?
1. Cook passionately. Be involved with the flavors and textures at each stage. Taste through the various stages of preparation and make sure that the flavors are complementary.
2. Use flavors and textures to enhance foods, not cover them up.
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