Colleen Clawson of Big Sky Cafe, Part 2

This is part two of Emily Wasserman's Chef's Choice profile of chef Colleen Clawson of Big Sky Cafe. To read part one, click here. Part three, a recipe from Clawson, can be found here.

Colleen Clawson of Big Sky Cafe, Part 2
Emily Wasserman

Did your family cook when you were a child? Every day. We have a big family and had to be home when the streetlights came on to have dinner together.

How old were you when you started cooking? Cooking with my family and sharing the preparation of meals are among my earliest memories.

First cooking job? Expo/prep at Frazer's; Riddle's on the line.

Did you attend culinary school or college? I went to North Park University for fine arts and philosophy. I showed up for classes at L'Hotellerie in Belgium while visiting friends.

What do you eat? A lot of vegetables; The Condiment Sandwich, version 387 (I make a different sandwich almost every day).

What do you cook at home? Grains, rice, veggies, salads on toast with an egg on top.

What are your three favorite restaurants in St. Louis (besides your own!)? The Mud House, Frazer's, Basil Spice and Five Bistro.

The local chef who most impresses you? Rachel Moeller at Remy's.

Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? When I travel, I like to just walk around and pop into places. I like neighborhood spots.

Your favorite food city? Paris because everything there was delicious.

Favorite recent food find? Missouri wheat berries.

Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Love. You have to put the love in it.

Colleen Clawson of Big Sky Cafe, Part 2
Emily Wasserman

Favorite local food find, and where do you get it? Chanterelles at the moment -- they are almost over, though.

Five words to describe your food. Made with care and intention.

One food you dislike. I'm not very fond of eggplant. I think I have a sensitivity to night shades. It makes my tongue feel funny.

A food you can't live without. Mushrooms, avocado and coconut.

An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Ego. It's not about you or me; it's about beautiful food and having great service.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Just more people going out to eat. There are a lot of really neat things happening with food right now.

Best tip for home cooks... Stop buying pre-packaged food and force yourself to make things. It's surprising how little effort it takes to make a simple meal from scratch.

Favorite after-work hangout. Venice Café.

Favorite kitchen tool. My hands or a spoon.

What's next for you? I hope to help a neighborhood become more sustainable: Help one family plant their own tomatoes or another plant their own cucumbers, and then have the whole neighborhood bring their food together and eat local produce. But I also plan to keep learning and honing the menu at Big Sky.

What inspires you? People, music, art, life.

Chefs who inspire you. Alice Waters, Jerry Traunfeld, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Favorite cookbooks? The Flavor Bible, The Herbfarm Cookbook, The Art of Simple Food.

Proudest professional moment? Having my name on the menu at Big Sky next to Lisa Slay's.

Clawson with one of Big Sky's mosaics - Emily Wasserman
Emily Wasserman
Clawson with one of Big Sky's mosaics

Favorite music to have in the kitchen. Depends; A lot of braising likes rock 'n' roll; A.M. prep likes Pretty Little Empire/Flaming Lips/The Decemberists; Afternoons like funk/soul/reggae. Sunday I like to play Tibetan Chakra chants and Steve Gold. Led Zeppelin for breaking down.

What's on your pizza? Black olives.

What's in your omelet? Cheese.

What are you drinking? Methi water.

What's the most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? Many, and I'm still learning. The lessons keep coming, and you have to keep cooking regardless.

When did you know the chef's life was for you? When I couldn't stop.


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