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A sweet recipe from Hot Locust's kitchen, scaled down for yours

When chefs Margaret Kelly and Richard Kraus met during an apprenticeship at the St. Louis Country Club a few years back, they discovered a shared exuberance for cooking. Though they parted ways after SLCC, landing in opposite corners of the world, they managed to keep in touch, which ultimately led to their joining forces at the new Hot Locust Cafe. During the interim, Kelly honed her skills at the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco and opened Cardwell's in Plaza Frontenac as sous-chef. Meanwhile, Kraus had removed to cooking school in Zurich, putting in a two-year stint as pastry chef at the four-star Hotel Zum Storcken, where, he says, he picked up "just enough German to ask for a beer."

Fortunately for St. Louis palates, he learned more about cooking than he did about German. He and Kelly share a passion for "really good food" and fresh, locally grown ingredients. "We're real sticklers for seasonal stuff," Kraus adds, mystified that his customers clamor for cream dishes in summer.

Kelly, who also teaches cooking classes at the Kitchen Conservatory with her twin sister, Bridget Ries, offers a spiritual approach to food. "All the therapy you need," she says, "is in your kitchen."

I was lucky enough to cajole the recipe for Hot Locust's strawberry fritters from Kelly, and even luckier when she invited me to taste-test the therapeutic result. She's pared down the proportions for civilian kitchens.

Fritter batter (enough for about 18 large berries):
1/2 cup soda water or beer
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine and sift dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture. Incorporate slowly with a whip (very important to avoid lumps) until all liquid is dispersed evenly. Batter should be thick enough to coat berries.

Drop whole, dry strawberries into batter. Lift them with a fork and drop into 350-degree oil for frying (a Fry Daddy works great). Fry until golden brown. Gently jiggle the basket until your doughnuts move freely in the oil. Remove and drain on paper towels. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately with caramel and chocolate sauces, or be creative with sauces of your own choosing (Kelly gave me raspberry sauce the night of the taste test).

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