This is part two of Chrissy Wilmes' Chef's Choice profile of Jeff Robtoy of the Bleeding Deacon Public House (4123 Chippewa Street; 314-772-1813) in south St. Louis. To read part one, click here. Part three, a recipe from Robtoy, can be found here.
Did your family cook when you were a child? My family had a garden growing up, so not only did we do a lot of cooking at home, we used homegrown produce as much as possible.
How old were you when you started cooking? I remember cooking for my brother when I was about twelve.
First cooking job? Cardinal Carberry Senior Living Apartments, when I was fifteen.
Did you attend culinary school or college? I received a Bachelor of Studio Arts degree from Southern Illinois University.
What do you eat? Anything that tastes good!
What do you cook at home? I use my kitchen at home to experiment for potential ideas at the Deacon, so pretty much anything that interests me. I made saltines one time, just to see how to do it. Last night I made pesto-stuffed turkey breast with an orange-marmalade glaze, braised mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and leek mashed potatoes.
The local chef who most impresses you? Chef Marc Del Pietro of Luciano's.
Your favorite restaurant elsewhere? The O, Pittsburgh.
Your favorite food city? New York.
Favorite recent food find? When you take a nest of rice-stick noodles and flash-fry it, it makes a really cool texture and tastes good!.
Most essential ingredient in your kitchen? Salt.
Favorite local food find, and where do you get it? I love fresh morels, I'm not exactly sure where to find them myself.
Five words to describe your food. Eclectic, comforting, surprising, traditional, tasty.
One food you dislike. Fast food.
A food you can't live without. Mushrooms.
An ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Pretty much anything can be allowed if it fits the concept or dish.
Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more... Daring menu items and risky chefs.
Best tip for home cooks? Stay positive!
Favorite after-work hangout? The Bleeding Deacon Public House. Even when I was managing kitchens in Clayton, I came to the Deacon.
Favorite kitchen tool? Tongs! They can be used for just about anything.
What's next for you? Changing the menu at the Deacon for summer. Iron Fork. Winning the lottery.
What inspires you? Modern art, fresh produce, my employees, music.
Favorite cookbooks? Jacques Pepin: La Technique. I have this old Better Homes & Gardens cookbook form the '50s that's interesting. I also have this Nobu cookbook that is impossible to cook out of, but it's something to strive for!
Proudest professional moment? Writing a new seasonal menu and watching people get excited about the choices we've made.
Favorite music to have in the kitchen. '60s soul, Kraftwerk, '70s punk rawk.
What's on your pizza? Mushroom, spinach, onions and garlic is pretty all right!
What's in your omelet? Red peppers, chorizo, smoked mozzarella.
What are you drinking? During the day, coffee and energy drinks. Night: The Deacon has well over 70 beers, so there's always something new to try. For some reason I've been stuck on Schlafly Hefeweizen.
What's the most surprising food you've eaten? Foie gras. It looks like something you should hate, but it's fantastic.
What's the most difficult lesson you've learned in this business? Don't get too attached to your menu or ideas. Just because you love a dish or combination, It does not mean it will be a big seller. Chefs walk a thin line between art and giving the people what they want.
When did you know the chef's life was for you? I've always loved to cook, and it's very similar in some ways to my degree. (I was a printmaker and bookbinder). There's a certain amount of patience, creativity and critical thinking, as there is in art. I started managing kitchens and rewriting menus about six years ago. My mother manages cafeterias, so it's always been a part of my life.