Chef Cary Neff Talks Changes at Central Table and Educating the Community

Apr 23, 2014 at 7:00 am
At the sandwich counter at Central Table Food Hall. | Jennifer Silverbeg
At the sandwich counter at Central Table Food Hall. | Jennifer Silverbeg

We knew there'd be big changes to Central Table Food Hall (23 South Euclid Avenue; 314-932-5595) when executive chef Nick Martinkovic left for Blood & Sand, but they're finally here. We sat down with chef Cary Neff, who oversees operations, about his new executive chef, community outreach and sweet pea squash.

See also: Central Table Food Hall succeeds as a culinary hub for all palates - Slideshow: Inside Central Table Food Hall

Neff hired new executive chef Darnell Devine just to help him out as he searched for a new chef, but it ended up being a perfect fit. He had a pretty intense interview -- on the cutting board next to Neff himself from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. one day. Devine cooked at a private club in Florida, but his background is classical French cuisine (he also has a Masters degree in music) and culinary instruction.

"His background in culinary instruction was extremely invaluable to me, because what we're trying to do here is not only collaborate on food and a great atmosphere, but also teaching," Neff says. The marketplace has been changed to a private dining room, which Neff says could be used for private parties who want say, sushi-making demonstrations.

"We're strengthening our relationship with BJC [hospital], who is our landlord, and have them know that we can further their wellness mission," Neff says. "With our expansive space and our exhibition kitchen, it can be more of a teaching kitchen."

The main change is adding to the menu. Neff and his team have taken the things we already love -- the turkey club, margherita pizza, butternut squash ravioli -- and packed in lots more. There are now designations of which dishes are under 500 calories, but Neff says it's more about mindful eating and learning nutritional value.

"The butternut squash ravioli was awesome, in-season and great for a diabetic, but now I'm going to serve not only sweet pea ravioli, but he best sweet pea ravioli," Neff says. "It will excite your senses, but I also need to educate my staff on the nutritional value of sweet peas. It's about mindful choices."

Neff created a style of cooking called "conscious cooking" about 15 years ago (and named his cookbook the same thing). He's not a health nut, though, and has seen that be the kiss of death for restaurants. "It's mindful choices of when I'm going to have this amazing decadence, and when I'm going to be mindful, and not feel guilty about either," he says. "But you have to have both options."

You can check out the new, expanded menus here.

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