This is part two of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Chris DiMercurio of Vino Nadoz. Read part one, a profile of DiMercurio, here. Part three, a recipe from DiMercurio, will be published on Friday.
Chris DiMercurio worked alongside -- and learned from -- some of St. Louis' talented young chefs in Gerard Craft's restaurant group. From there he took a high-paying cooking job at a corporate hotel chain, but the long hours made him miserable. He nearly gave up cooking -- until his wife asked him what he really wanted to do.
"I said cooking," he tells Gut Check. "I love cooking. I love making people happy when they eat the food I made for them. And she was like, well why would you ever give that up?
Now his passion for food is on display at Vino Nadoz (16 the Boulevard, Richmond Heights; 314-726-0400) and throughout our interview with the chef.
Who cooked dinner for your family when you were growing up? My dad was the cook -- my dad cooked dinner every night. My mom knows how to cook four things -- they're really good ,but it's limited. We had the whole suburban dinner every night with my family. Nothing really crazy, just south-county food. But it was nice. We ate together almost every night. My dad was the Crock-Pot master; he made great ham and beans.
What was your favorite meal as a child? My grandma on my mom's side made cube steak cooked and tenderized in cream of mushroom soup, mashed potatoes and corn. I would chop it all up and mix it into one gray glob. My mom actually just made me that for my birthday meal.
What is the earliest memory you have of yourself cooking? I was in grade school, and when I came home after school, I would cook myself snacks. That was back when those Boboli pizza shells just came out, and I'd make myself these weird pizzas from what was in the pantry. I became really good at making sauces -- weird combinations for stuff. When I would help my dad cook, I would make sauces for things.
What was your first paying job in the food industry? The Victorian National Golf Club in Evansville, Indiana. I was the dishwasher/prep/garde-manger dude. It was basically a two-man line, and one guy worked all the hot-line stuff, and I did all the cold and the dishwashing.
I was a terrible dishwasher. I was a terrible dishwasher.
After that I worked at the Petroleum Club, but I hated that place, and then I went to the Culinary Institute of America for my bachelor's degree. During school I staged at places in the city, and I externed at the Broadmoor Resort and Spa in Colorado Springs. I came back to St. Louis and worked at Herbie's Vintage 72 for a year.
Then I moved to Burlington, Vermont. Vermont was a big influence in my outlook of what legit farm-to-table was. Like, we would go to the farm and get what we needed or the farmer was there at your place. I worked at a place called the Starry Night Cafe under chef Josh Krechel, who is an absolute beast and one of the best chefs I've worked under. The food was on par woith very fine-dining cuisine, but the atmosphere was super relaxed. It was a three-person line, and we got our asses handed to us all the time.
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