Chef's Choice: Jeffrey Constance, Hanley's Grille and Tap

Oct 15, 2009 at 4:15 pm
click to enlarge Chef Jeffrey Constance of Hanley's Grille and Tap - Robin Wheeler
Robin Wheeler
Chef Jeffrey Constance of Hanley's Grille and Tap
What do you mean, you haven't heard of Hanley's Grille and Tap? Chef Jeff Constance took over the former J.Buck's locations at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and West County Center in Des Peres a few months ago. Though brand new, Hanely's is already providing Euro-inspired comfort food and excellent service like an old pro. For the 42-year-old Belleville, Illinois, native, it's the culmination of many years in the kitchen.

"I started cooking as a kid with my dad," says Constance. "He'd just had a heart attack and had been trying to change his diet. He was home a lot because he couldn't work. I was always close with my dad so that was an opportunity to spend time with him."

click to enlarge Ingredients prepped for Constance's meatloaf recipe - Robin Wheeler
Robin Wheeler
Ingredients prepped for Constance's meatloaf recipe
He didn't plan on making cooking a career until he found himself spending a lot of time in a local bar and restaurant for another reason. "My friends were big into music -- Uncle Tupelo were all good buddies of mine. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were my best friends. We were hanging out at Cicero's all the time. I wanted to work at a place like Cicero's at that time in my life. I was in my late teens, early twenties. I got a job on the spot at eleven at night and started cooking."

During that time, a family friend returned to Belleville after studying at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, inspiring Constance to expand his culinary horizons.

While his friends were rattling the music world, he found success in the less-publicized culinary realm. (This, of course, was before chefs were treated like rock stars.) After an internship at a New Jersey country club, he landed at chef Charlie Palmer's Aureole in New York City. There he learned to apply classic French and Italian techniques to American comfort food, the concept that's his primary influence today.