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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Brasserie's Nick Blue Keeps the Attitude out of the Kitchen

Posted By on Tue, Oct 13, 2015 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge Brasserie's executive chef Nick Blue. - CHERYL BAEHR
  • Cheryl Baehr
  • Brasserie's executive chef Nick Blue.

"Growing up, I didn't ever imagine being a chef," recounts Nick Blue, the executive chef at Brasserie (4580 Laclede Ave., 314-454-0600). "But looking back, food was a big part of my life. Family dinner was something that we did together every night of the week. We're a social family and the kitchen was the center of that. It was like hosting a party for each other every night."

Though Blue was comfortable in the home kitchen, he admits that his first foray onto a professional line wasn't as easy. After graduating from college, the Hannibal native moved to St. Louis and got his first cooking gig at 15, Jim Edmonds' now-shuttered downtown steakhouse. "I had been bussing and waiting tables, and when I went into the kitchen, I didn't feel really at home at first," Blue recalls. "But I was lucky to be surrounded by the right people. They taught me how to work in a kitchen and gave me a really solid base of knowledge."

Blue used that base as a jumping-off point for his career with Gerard Craft's Niche Food Group — first as part of the opening team for Taste. He eventually moved to Niche, where he met his wife, pastry chef Sarah Osborne: "We worked the same station together. It was a lot of fun."

Still, he wanted to push himself further out of his comfort zone. After two years with Niche, Blue packed his bags and moved to Chicago to work at the acclaimed Blackbird restaurant. "I'd never lived anywhere but Hannibal and St. Louis, so I wanted to see if I could do it," explains Blue. "Really, I think some amount of tension and stress if good for you."

The young chef was never far off Craft's radar, however. When an opportunity came up for him to return to Niche as sous chef, Blue and Craft began a conversation joking about it. By the time they finished talking, Craft asked him,"Why don't you just go ahead and come back now?"

Now, as executive chef at Craft's Brasserie, Blue is focused on creating classic French comfort food that he hopes will make patrons feel as if they have been transported across the pond. But that is not his only priority. "Hospitality is really important to me, and I carry that through to the employees," Blue says. "Sometimes chefs are stereotyped as being angry people. That's not me. I'm a pretty happy person. Sure, I have my moments, but we are in the kitchen because we are doing what we love. It takes more energy to be angry all day. And besides, I think when you're happy you create better food than if you walk around in a bad mood all day." 

Blue took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his embarrassing Mountain Dew habit, and why it's fine for you to call him a mamma's boy. 

What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I have never been to France. This makes it super important for me to constantly be reading and learning everything that I can about France and its food. I want our guest to get lost while they are here and feel as if they are in France.

What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Calling my mom. I call my mom everyday on the way to work. Its nice to talk to her before I start my day. And yes, I realize this makes me a mamma’s boy and I’m fine with that.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I would want to be able to fly. I love driving, but I despise sitting in traffic.

What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
The most positive thing we have going right now is that so many people are talking about our food scene. A lot of great young people opening up some really cool spots.

Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Sarah Osborn. I have really loved watching her come into her own as a pastry chef. She has a lot of challenges with only local ingredients. But I feel like she really embraces that and does great with it.

Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Matt Daughaday. He just opened up Reeds American Table, and I’m super excited to see everything he does.

Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Carrot. A carrot is a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen. I like to feel that I’m the same way.

If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?

I honestly have no idea. I think I would be completely lost.

Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
A bad attitude. Yeah, we all have our moments but we are all in the kitchen because we love it! Just walking around grumpy all the time wouldn’t work for me.

What is your after-work hangout?
Home with my wife and dog.

What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Mountain Dew. I know. I know. It’s horrible but there is something about an ice cold can of Mountain Dew that is super refreshing to me.

What would be your last meal on earth?
Probably would have to be fried chicken, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and a strawberry rhubarb pie.

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