St. Louis is an incredible food city. Seriously, it is. There’s always a unique pop-up, food event, or restaurant opening. Jake and I try to visit a new restaurant each week and feel like we’re just starting to scratch the surface of the dining scene.
A few weeks ago, the ALIVE Influencer Network hosted a “Tasty Takeover” of a weekly event called Venture Cafe that connects local entrepreneurs. This event was open to everyone to attend at no cost. The theme focused on innovation in food and beverages. Local chefs, beer brewers, and food media folks spoke on panels and shared samples. As a newish STL resident, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn and connect with others also interested in food.
You’ve probably seen me mention the ALIVE Influencer Network before. The women who manage this network not only help produce the ALIVE magazines, but also coordinate blogger events highlighting local businesses, such as an Easter egg hunt Eckert’s and a recent cocktail-making lesson at the Thaxton Speakeasy. I look forward to partnering with them on some more opportunities this coming year.
Here are some of my favorite highlights from the evening:
A sign asked guests to please limit drinks to three. I found this limit extremely generous! I requested a small sample of Old Bakery Brewing’s Sweet Potato & Chai beer. Normally I go for the lightest beer possible, but liked the beer’s smoothness and chai tea spices.
- Old Bakery Brewing is the only certified organic craft brewery in the area. Head Brewer James Rogalski described the challenge of sourcing organic hops.
- Head Brewer Rebecca Schranz of Earthbound described how she and the other two co-owners built their business from ground-up. Currently, they are completing a big remodel project. When asked about how she became head brewer, she exclaimed, “I brew the best beer!” Finally, I found the conflict resolution the three co-owners use cool, fascinating, and efficient.
- Ryan Sherring represented Six Mile Bridge: Sherring, a South African native has brewed beer in several continents. He mentioned there are less breweries in South Africa than St. Louis, alone. While the dynamic among brewers in South Africa felt cut-throat, it’s very collaborative here. All of the panel members chimed in and recalled instances where owners at other STL breweries extended support and assistance.
- I was surprised to learn about the sheer amount of plant matter beer brewing needs and leaves. Jon Shine of Urban Chestnut discussed becoming a zero-waste facility. Another cool thing I learned is that Urban Chestnut is going to install a smaller, two-barrel system to test out new beers. Customers will be able to order a sampler for $1 if they provide their honest opinion on the brew.
- The Influencer Marketing panel included both bloggers and business owners who hire bloggers.
- Both sides discussed the ethics of blogging to market something for compensation. As a food blogger, this topic hit home.
- “What would you do if you accepted a blogging gig and ended up not actually liking that product or service,” an audience member asked. Bloggers Whisky and Soba and Psyche Southwell discussed how they would handle this situation. Both prioritize honesty and tact. As Whiskey & Soba stated, “Keep it simple: Keep it honest.” Both only consider sponsored opportunities for services and products they are genuinely excited about.
- Participating chefs: Bob Brazell of Byrd & Barrel, Josh Charles of Element, Bernie Lee of HIRO Asian Kitchen, David Kirkland of Cafe Osage and Katie Collier of Katie’s Pizza and Pasta
- Samples: Sweet and spicy Malaysian Achar pickles from Lee, crispy fried white and dark meat “Nugz” with a from Brazell & flatbread with bean dip from Collier (ate her sample too fast to photograph).
- Like the brewers, the chefs described the collaborative nature of the St. Louis food community. Many chefs are friends and have worked for or with each other. Several brought up examples of other chefs offering to teach them a technique or collaborate on a food. Chefs here in St. Louis are always working together to offer joint food specials or offering their spaces for a visiting chef to host a pop-up events.
- Chef Lee talked about challenges of creating a children’s menu when he first opened HIRO. Staff members insisted it needed to include buttered noodles. Lee found the idea of plain buttered noodles unusual at first, but did end up adding it. Now it’s the most popular dish on the children’s menu.
- At HIRO’s Asian Kitchen, Chef Lee creates many authentic Malaysian dishes. The fusion came into play when he couldn’t find ingredients available in Malaysia. He spoke about introducing guests to new foods and expanding their perspective of what Asian food is. For example, he described how some people are surprised to see a fine dining Asian restaurant or wonder why the menu doesn’t offer foods like sweet and sour chicken. One story he recollected was of a friend who claimed he hated fish sauce. Lee made a dish that he liked and told him afterwards that it included fish sauce. All of sudden his friend changed his mind and said he didn’t like the dish afterwards. Lee replied that he actually did like fish sauce even if his mind didn’t think he did.
- One fun question the chefs answered was where they recently enjoyed a really fantastic meal. Several mentioned Randolfi’s in St. Louis and Bar Les Freres.
- I loved hearing the chefs tell stories about what inspired them to cook. Chef Kirkland of Cafe Osage described his Mom’s French onion soup and trying to replicate it. Chef Charles at Element said the French Laundry made him fall in love with cooking. Chef Brazell described the scratch-made BLT’s his grandma made with tomatoes picked from her garden.
- When I think of Chef Katie Lee Collier, I not only think of delicious food we’ve enjoyed at Katie’s Pizza and Pasta, but of warm hospitality & graciousness both in person and online through her social media accounts. It was fun to learn she worked for Chef Lee at HIRO’s. She recounted how he modeled hospitality by also going out of his way to also make everyone feel welcome.
- Chef Collier described the challenges of developing a new menu (or adding new menu items) and testing these dishes out on diners. It sounds like the chefs love being innovative but want to balance introducing new dishes with making sure diners can still find their old favorites, too.