Best Chef Tandem St. Louis 2000 - Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell, The Crossing
Jim Fiala and Cary McDowell are seasoned craftsmen who can concoct an evening special in five minutes when they see what their fishmonger and produce supplier have brought them that morning. Give them, say, a whole bluefish, a few sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme, a side of bacon and an onion, and they'll whip up a superb bacon-wrapped grilled bluefish. Fiala and McDowell, chefs/owners of The Crossing, both completed rigorous culinary-school training, but their success is also grounded in their veneration of fine ingredients, their guileless yet graceful preparations and their deep, unwavering friendship. Since McDowell and Fiala opened their restaurant in April 1998, fish cookery has become their hallmark. They prepare tilapia, Alaskan halibut, black grouper, yellowfin tuna, Dover sole, Oregon red king salmon and other fish using the classic techniques of roasting, grilling, poaching, pan-searing and sautéing. Sometimes they sauce the fish to bring out its richness, but the flavor usually needs little embellishment. The chefs are adept at creating vegetable dishes and desserts, too. In fact, their warm chocolate torte and their composed salad of goat cheese and beets have become signature dishes. Pleasing his customers, McDowell says forthrightly, is gratifying: "To work towards making The Crossing a good restaurant, a great restaurant that people would want to come to over and over again, a place that's special to them -- that's the reward I get."