Five, his restaurant on the Hill. "You can't write about food if you don't understand flavors and if you don't know where things come from."
If it helps, the 31-year-old Devoti and I both attended the culinary program at St. Louis Community College - Forest Park a decade ago. Afterwards, I dabbled in catering and teaching, while
he went on to graduate from New York's French Culinary Institute, eventually working at Zuni Café in San Francisco before returning to St. Louis to open Five and Newstead Tower Public House.
Even before working with Zuni's Judy Rogers -- a St. Louis native and one of the early proponents of local foods -- Devoti had a growing interest in local ingredients: "At the restaurant prior to Zuni, that's when I started to get into local...buy local, and support local economy and people. See how much fresher and better everything is."
If he can buy an ingredient locally, he does. Not just because it's trendy, but because of his deep-rooted values.
"We could probably make a pretty good turn on things if we were buying Tyson chicken instead of Benne's Farm chicken. But that's a belief. What's your belief? What do you really feel in your heart is right and proper to do?"
We had the bar at Five to ourselves, since they only serve dinner. When I arrived Devoti offered me a seat and a glass of water before excusing himself to the kitchen to check the poulet. Every time he went into the kitchen, I could hear him whistling as soon as the door closed behind him. It's the sound of a content person, happy with the task at hand, whether it's feeding a food writer or long conversations with Riddles founder Andy Ayers about potatoes. Contentment also comes from doing the right thing, from supporting the local economy to offering health insurance to his employees to knowing the people who reside in Five's neighborhood on the Hill.