Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chef's Choice: Cary McDowell, Winslow's Home

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 2:35 PM

Cary McDowell has been doing some reminiscing. "Maybe it's a function of turning 40," he says. "I feel very circular. I started my love of professional cooking at a very young age with a group in Little Rock, Arkansas, and they encouraged me to go off and do great things and work with the best people I could. That was always a core theme in what motivated me. Along the way I worked with some of the best chefs I could ever imagine. It's been such a gift."

Cary McDowell
  • Cary McDowell
"What led me to St. Louis was a friendship with [St. Louis native] Jim Fiala that formed in New York City at Restaurant Daniel. Ultimately we made the decision to move here and open a restaurant [The Crossing] together."

The son of an Episcopalian priest with roots in Winchester, Tennessee, McDowell spent the first part of his life moving, eventually going to Manhattan and apprenticing at Daniel.

"I had a really blessed and charmed training. I happened to be in the right place at the right time in the right era to continue to put myself in these places. What I've tried to do in the past twelve years since we opened the Crossing was continue to honor that gift that was given so freely to me, of the craft, education and hand-me-down nature of cooking. I've been cognizant to try to give that back. I was told early on that the way this gig works on that level is you don't hoard it and you don't try to keep it. You have to continue to give it back to other folks."

After years in the fine dining game, last summer he returned to his homier roots at Winslow's Home, Ann Lipton's vision of a modern-day general store and farm that supports sustainable products and local producers. It's a departure from his years in upscale dining and a lesson in the authenticity of food.

"We're not trying to be a restaurant," he explains. "We're not trying to offer fancy table service. But we work really hard to make sure, as simple as it is, that it's true to what it should be. I was blessed to start out in a place like that in Arkansas. It was the place in Little Rock where they served real food at that time. They had real sandwiches. They had what would be considered vegetarian -- maybe even characterized as hippie-type sandwiches in the day. What drove them was that they were serving fresh, good, best stuff that they could get. That was in the mid-'80s. That's resonated with me the whole time."

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