This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Andrew Jennrich of Farmhaus. Part two, a Q&A, will be available Thursday. Part three, a recipe from Jennrich, will be published on Friday.
For many years, the migration went like this: Talented young St. Louis cooks, eager to make their bones working for great chefs serving progressive cuisine, packed up their knives and toques and headed north to Chicago.
Chicago native Andrew Jennrich, the chef de cuisine of Kevin Willmann's Farmhaus (3257 Ivanhoe Avenue; 314-647-3800), points to Paul Virant as an example. A St. Louis native, Virant opted to pursue a culinary career in the Windy City. There his restaurant Vie won a Michelin star (since lost), and in 2007 Food & Wine named him one of the magazine's "Best New Chefs."
Jennrich once asked Virant why he departed St. Louis for Chicago. Virant told him that at the time he saw few options in the St. Louis dining scene besides Annie Gunn's.
"If I was going to work at Annie Gunn's," Jennrich remembers Virant saying, "what was I going to do there, where was I going to go [from there]?"
Flash-forward to 2011: Jennrich and his wife both worked in restaurants in Chicago, she in the front of the house. Their first child, a daughter, was six months old.
"Let's just say that we drastically underestimated the financial cost of having a child with two restaurant people in the city of Chicago," Jennrich says. "In six months we got swallowed up. The closest daycare to our place was $2,400 a month. Rent is $2,000.
"When our lease ran out, we had to go."
Jennrich's wife hails from St. Charles, so St. Louis offered both financial relief and the support of nearby family. As for employment, Jennrich threw a Hail Mary. "I sent Kevin [Willmann] a blind e-mail. It said, 'I have no idea if you're hiring. I believe in what you're doing. I share a lot of the same ideologies. If there's any possibility for me to be part of the team in some capacity, I'd love to.'
"He called me three days later and said, 'Why don't you come in and stage?'"
Jennrich grew up on the northwest side of Chicago -- yes, he's a long-suffering Cubs fan, and, yes, the Cardinals' success over the two years that he's lived here has been "awful" -- but didn't discover cooking as a vocation until he attended St. Norbert College in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
"I did what kids do when they go to college. I worked all summer and saved money when I was eighteen years old. And by December I blew every single dime."
A friend who worked at a local brewpub offered to set up an interview. "I really don't know what I'm doing with cooking," Jennrich says. "He's like, 'It's Green Bay, Wisconsin. You don't really need to know what you're doing.'
"I went in and met the chef. I literally started the next day. It was simple food, nothing crazy, but good. What I really enjoyed about it, it was something different. I'd never worked in a kitchen environment, with this teamwork aspect, this family environment. I totally enjoyed it."
He enjoyed it so much that during his sophomore year, he called his parents to say he wanted to drop out of college and attend culinary school instead. They urged him to keep cooking, if he loved it so much, but not to drop out of college. He heeded their advice, but upon graduation, he enrolled in culinary school at the Art Institute of Chicago.
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