What do you need to be a topnotch chef? A fancy, cutting-edge kitchen? A corps of a dozen line cooks at your beck and call? Prime real estate in a major metropolitan area? None of the above, if you're Kevin Willmann. In a kitchen that makes a freshman dorm room look expansive, in a restaurant a half-hour's drive from downtown St. Louis, Willmann takes ingredients from local producers and fashions them into dishes that are playful in conception, beautiful on the plate and, above all else, delicious. The menu changes frequently, but you're certain to encounter unusual combinations — peach and prosciutto, scallops and truffled whipped cream — and contemporary spins on good ol' fashioned home cookin'. (If a dish includes spoon bread, order it.) Willmann was born in Greenville, Illinois. After making his bones along the Gulf Coast in Florida, he worked at several St. Louis restaurants: Big Sky Café, Lucas Park Grille and Mosaic. But it's at Erato in downtown Edwardsville that he has found the perfect outlet for his talent. Yes, the kitchen is small, but it hardly matters when the talent is so great.
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