This is part one of Gut Check's Chef's Choice profile of Brian Moxey of Pastaria. Part two, a Q&A with Moxey, will be published Wednesday. Part three, a recipe from Moxey, will be available on Thursday.
A chef can't hide at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603). Not only is its kitchen open to the spacious dining room, with cooks plating pastas and sliding pizzas from the wood-fired oven mere feet away from the diners who ordered the dishes, but there are also seats on either side of the pass, allowing patrons to chat with the cooks as easily as they might with a bartender or one another.
Executive chef Brian Moxey, who returned to his native Missouri from New York City to work at Gerard Craft's smash-hit Italian spot, wouldn't have it any other way.
"I like that there's so many gratifying moments in a day, especially in an open kitchen," Moxey says. "You can look out and see directly if you're making somebody happy or not. And we can see that hundreds of times a day. It's awesome."
Moxey, who turns 30 next month, didn't fall in love with cooking and the restaurant life until he was in college. Growing up in Sikeston, he says, "My mom cooked out of necessity, just to feed the family."
His favorite dishes were comfort-food staples like meatloaf or spaghetti. "Velveeta and Ro-Tel," he adds and then laughs. "There's still a soft spot in my heart for that -- or maybe a hard spot in my arteries."
Moxey landed his first restaurant job while a student at Mizzou, working the front of the house at a Ruby Tuesday. What appealed to him, he says, was "the energy of it."
"Even at a place like that in a smaller college town, it was a nice family, tight-knit. Everyone was friends; everyone got along. That was also the energy back in the kitchen. It was a fun energy to watch."
So enthralled was Moxey that he switched his major to hotel management and, as part of the program, took his first cooking classes. He cites Leslie Jett, the executive chef of the university's hospitality program, as a major influence: "His showing us the proper way to do stuff -- some students were drawn in by it. I was definitely one of those. I would stay after class, and he took me on.
"And then one Christmas I got a Wüsthof knife and the French Laundry Cookbook, and I stayed up all night reading that."
Moxey wanted to drop out of Mizzou to attend culinary school but acceded to his parents' wishes that he graduate. Then he packed up his Wüsthof and headed to New York City to attend the French Culinary Institute (now known as the International Culinary Center).
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