Monday, January 9, 2017

Farmtruk's Samantha Mitchell Loved the Kitchen — But Found Freedom on the Road

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 10:04 AM

Samantha Mitchell takes her farm to table show on the road with Farmtruk. - CHERYL BAEHR
  • Cheryl Baehr
  • Samantha Mitchell takes her farm to table show on the road with Farmtruk.

Samantha Mitchell was only ten years old when she found herself in the restaurant business. "My grandma owned a restaurant in the Ozarks called Annie's Cozy Kitchen," Mitchell recalls. "It was a small country restaurant and everything was homemade. She'd have us peel potatoes and stuff. I was a ten-year-old waiting tables."

Mitchell never strayed from the business, taking on her first "real" job at sixteen at Subway. It didn't last too long, though. "I got fired after only a few months for giving away free subs," she laughs. "What can I say? I liked boys."

In need of a new job, Mitchell got a gig hostessing at Macaroni Grill. One day, they were short-staffed in the kitchen. Mitchell, now the owner of the Farmtruk food truck and a rising star in the St. Louis food scene, pitched in — and never looked back.

"I felt at home in the kitchen. I'm not a stereotypical girl and never really felt like I fit in anywhere," Mitchell explains. "I was the only girl in kitchen and I loved it — the vulgarity and intensity and not being judged. For the first time I realized that people don’t give a fuck about anything other than how good you do and how good you can cook and if you're able to clean and do the grunt work. It made me realize it’s a respect thing. I was sold at sixteen."

Mitchell enrolled in culinary school immediately after high school. She left Missouri for Idaho after she finished the program, working as a sous chef at a wine bar called Nectar. The experience opened up Mitchell to the concept of hyper-seasonal, farm-to-table cooking that would become her cooking philosophy.

After moving back to Missouri, Mitchell made her way to Annie Gunn's, where she worked for seven years, first as a sous chef for catering, then as the restaurant's overall sous chef. However, when she got married and had her daughter, she began to question whether a life in the kitchen was right for her and her family.

"Being a chef is a pretty selfish career," Mitchell says. "You give up your family and friends and things that you want to do — and you love it and it's worth it. When you have a kid, though, things change."

Mitchell had fallen in love with food trucks in Idaho and was excited by the freedom they could bring to her career. She found an old van on Craigslist, and she and her husband converted it into the roving farm-to-table concept Farmtruk.

"The love we have gotten from people is wonderful," Mitchell says. "I love going to different venues and seeing people get excited because they have been wanting to try our food. I've been able to get my food out and educate them on what we do."

Mitchell took a break from the truck — and her new Farmtruk catering operation — to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, her love of IPA and why, when you're in doubt, you should always put an egg on it.

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I am pretty much an open book, but some people may not know that even though I can be tough, I am a bleeding heart and a lover of everyone and everything.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Coffee is most certainly non-negotiable. Honestly, I cannot remember the last time I didn’t have at least one cup in a day.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I wish having a tail like an avatar could be a superpower, because it would be super rad, but just in case it isn’t, I would probably be invisible so I could creep up on people.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The caliber of chefs is on the rise. This generation of up-and-coming chefs is going to take our food scene to the next level.

What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
An indoor market focused on the best of the best of local food, art and small business. A central hub for all things awesome in St. Louis.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Bob Brazell [of Byrd & Barrel] is so awesome. Everything that comes from this dude is killer, from his restaurant concepts to his staff and of course his delicious food. Plus we use the same farmers.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Jesse Mendica of Olive + Oak, for sure. She is an extremely smart and talented chef. There is no stopping her. I have looked up to her for years, and to watch her success is inspiring for me.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Most certainly eggs. When in doubt, put an egg on it!

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Who knows? This is all that I have ever done. I’m a sucker for this crazy business, but probably something in the arts where I could have creative freedom. I could never, ever have a desk job.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
Any type of processed cheese product. “American cheese” is a no no in my kitchen. I know it tastes good, but it just is not cheese.

What is your after work hangout?
Home mostly. I love spending time with my husband and daughter. I do tend to make a pit stop by Olive + Oak once a week or so to “catch up on emails." Haha.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
I am an IPA kind of chick for sure, so a good beer makes me happy.

What would be your last meal on earth?
I would say a big bowl of seafood pho. There is nothing that sounds better. The warm broth is so comforting, and the crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs are something I crave on the regular.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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