The Chefs of Iron Fork 2014: Brian Coltrain, Element

Brian Coltrain at Table. | Jennifer Silverberg
Brian Coltrain at Table. | Jennifer Silverberg

Iron Fork 2014 is only days away, and one of the best parts (besides all that food) is the chef competition. Four local chefs at the top of their game will cook their hearts out live, onstage, with a mystery ingredient. Only one will be declared the winner.

Last year, Ed Heath of Cleveland-Heath took top honors, and he'll be returning to defend his title. But he'll be meeting three young challengers in the ballroom at the Union Station Hotel on March 20.

The youngest challenger this year is Brian Coltrain of Element (1419 Carroll Street; 314-241-1674).

See also: The Chefs of Iron Fork 2014: John Perkins, Juniper

Name: Brian Coltrain Age: 25 Pedigree: Yia Yia's, Niche, Mosaic, Table Restaurant: Element Hometown: Ballwin Nickname: Coltrain

"I didn't really know I wanted to cook. My parents gave me the idea," Coltrain says. "The first day of culinary school I decided this is what I want to do. As soon as I started going, it seemed as everything made sense."

Coltrain graduated from L'Ecole Culinaire in 2008, and has worked under some of the best chefs in St. Louis. He started at Yia Yia's and worked his way up to sous chef. After three years, he moved on to Niche for about a year and a half. He then worked at Mosaic as a sous chef until he left to help Cassy Vires open Table.

He's been cooking since he was a kid, but he never thought of it as a profession until he was older. Most things were home-cooked when he was growing up -- his parents even made his baby food from scratch. "We were kind of broke when I was a kid. We had to get basics and make it into something delicious even before I knew what cooking was," Coltain says. "I've been working on this my whole life."

At the excellent Element in Lafayette Square, Coltrain works under the direction of executive chef Brian Hardesty. "The best thing is the freedom. Chef Hardesty lets us develop the menu with him instead of for him," he says. "I have four or five dishes that are completely from my head. Chef Brian will tweak them and taste, but ultimately I get to devlop a third of the menu."

The only other chef competition Coltrain has done was while he was a student at L'Ecole, but he was helping his chef at Iron Chef Clayton. He admits he's a little nervous.

"I've been working on some things -- I guess my strategy would be not to commit to one specific flavor profile," he says. "We have the secret ingredient, so I want to have something I can easily incorporate it into whether it be a spice or a protein. I like to be open-ended with my cooking style because it doesn't make me hot to make one thing."

Coltrain describes his style as somewhat world fusion; he cites his porker tenderloin at Element, which is made with a German black garlic spaetzle. "When I think about ingredients, I don't necessarily think about the origin more than its flavor profile," he says. "It's fun experimenting, to see how things actually work out. I like to wing it."

Iron Fork is Thursday, March 20 at Union Station. You can still get your tickets here.

Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter.

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