Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jax Cafe's Chef Brian Hale on Leaving the "Scene" and Cooking for the Love of It

Posted By on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 at 8:15 AM

Jax Cafe's Brian Hale - MABEL SUEN
  • Mabel Suen
  • Jax Cafe's Brian Hale

Brian Hale, executive chef at the new Jax Café's (2901 Salena Street; 314-449-1995), isn't shy about discussing his bad-boy reputation and the colossal ego that defined him throughout most of his culinary career.

"I used to be a real dick," he says. "Really, I was all about the ego. A a total prima donna."

Hale enjoyed the notoriety that came from running the kitchen at the now-defunct Monarch, at the time one of the most innovative dining establishments in St. Louis. Hale became something of a rock star and that came with perks -- VIP status at the city's hottest clubs, complimentary meals at trendy restaurants, the works.

"I was going out all of the time. I knew all of the bouncers at the clubs on Washington, and they would wave me right in," Hale recalls. "I was totally into the scene. To be honest, I got a reputation that wasn't great."

See Also -First Look: Jax Cafe in Benton Park

Following Monarch, Hale took on an 80-hour work week as the head of culinary operations at the Chase Park Plaza. Burnout set in. Finally, he decided to drop out of the scene for a full year and a half. During this self-imposed exile, he occupied his time consulting for local restaurants like BARcelona and Coastal Bistro and did a pop-up concept with Bocci. That venture proved to be fateful because it brought him face to face with a ghost from his past -- long-lost dear friend and "soul mate" Gina Seltzer. She approached him about doing a restaurant that appealed more to his love of cooking and less to his ego. In other words, she made it clear that the attitude had to go.

"She wasn't going to put up with my bullshit," Hale laughs. "This was a real a-ha moment."

Jax Café, the result of this partnership, is not at all about ego. As Hale describes it, the theme of the menu is "recognizable comfort food with a bit of a twist." Sure, there's grilled cheese on the menu, but it's grilled cheese made with Cotswold cheese, bacon and tomato jam. Another dish that encapsulates the food vibe at Jax Café is the chicken biscuit.

"You can't go out to eat without seeing fried chicken and waffles on a menu. Everyone is doing it," he says.

Using his grandmother's recipe, Hale chose to replace the waffle with a biscuit; he even makes it in the same wooden bowl that she used to use. He adds a little sriracha butter to the biscuit, drizzles it with clover honey, and ends up with a something you'll only find at Jax.

Hale uses the word "love" several times when describing his thoughts on Jax Café. He says what matters to him now is that he is able to pick up his ten-year-old daughter from school on Friday afternoon and spend the entire weekend with her; that he has found a place where he would work for free if he could; that he finally gets to play and take things as far as his imagination will go. Just don't ask him to change his rock-star look.

"I still have long hair, I paint my toenails black and wear eyeliner when I go out. That won't change."

Read our full review of Hale's new restaurant, "Jax Café Is Rock-Star Chef Brian Hale's Low-Key Reincarnation," here.

Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com or follow her on Twitter.


Tags: ,

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

June 16, 2021

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation