Local focus: St. Louis chefs embrace Slow Food ethos

Chef Clara Moore of Local Harvest Café


Fast food may always have an audience, but the Slow Food movement, founded in 1989, continues to gain ground. Some 200 chapters in this country alone – including one in St. Louis – promote consumption of fresh, local, and sustainably produced food. Local chefs are among those embracing the cause. 

“Our customers understand and appreciate the freshness of locally grown food. There is just nothing else like it,” says Lou Rook III, chef at Annie Gunn’s Restaurant, 16806 Chesterfield Airport Road in Chesterfield.

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On his menu, Rook lists the farmers who supply the restaurant with fresh ingredients. As early as mid-March, Rook was cooking with fresh spinach and mustard greens, and he used locally grown pecans and maple syrup from a farm in Illinois to embellish a fish dish. “Fresh flavors are so pure,” he says.

Rook has been dealing with local farmers since March of 1994. “Back then, it was harder to get delivery, but over the years, things have blossomed. The number of small farms all across the country has been growing about 10 percent per year,” says Rook. He attributes that to the growth of farmers’ markets and also to the Slow Food movement. (See www.slowfoodstl.org/)

“It’s how to eat,” says Rook, “and it’s definitely the direction everybody wants to go.”

Clara Anne Louise Moore, the chef and general manager of Local Harvest Café & Catering, agrees. Moore feeds customers at her neighborhood café at 3137 Morganford Road with locally grown and produced foods as much as possible.

“I’ve been making lots of orange soups lately with seasonal ingredients – squash soup, sweet potato soup and pumpkin soup,” says Moore, laughing. She adds that she spreads Ah! Zeefa lentil dip, which is produced in St. Louis, on her popular Mediterranean vegetarian sandwich. (You can buy the dip across the street, at Local Harvest Grocery.) Moore also serves sandwiches made with chicken and brisket that are smoked in-house.

“And at brunch on Saturday and Sunday, we offer smoked salmon on a bagel,” says Moore. “Of course, the salmon is not caught here, but a local man goes up north during salmon season and fishes his heart out.”

Moore notes that eating locally grown and produced foods is important on many levels. “It keeps the money within our community, and with fewer middlemen it gives money back to the community more quickly. Nutritionally, there is nothing better for your body than eating food grown in season, in your climate,” she says. “Besides, fresh food tastes better.”

Moore teaches cooking classes, holds a “farmers’ dinner” every month and also offers a “yoga for foodies” class, which includes a meal after the yoga session. For details, see www.localharvestcafe.com.

Anthony Devoti is another chef who embraces the philosophy of eating locally. His Five Bistro, at 5100 Daggett on The Hill, specializes in bringing in meat, poultry, eggs and produce from farmers within 150 miles of the metropolitan area.

“This is the way people in Europe eat, and this is the way grandma and grandpa used to cook,” says Devoti. “Fresh food is better food – you can taste it. Besides, it’s nice looking a farmer in the eye, knowing they are raising beautiful products. Then, it’s personal.”

Devoti looks forward to fresh asparagus this month, along with several types of lettuces. “In May, we should have some locally grown cherry tomatoes,” he says. “Each year, it starts slow – and then when summer hits, it’s madness.”

How much madness? Every year, Devoti buys 900 pounds of potatoes and 300 pounds of beets, which he stores in a cellar for use all year ‘round. He notes that everything at Five Bistro and also at his Newstead Tower Public House at 4353 Manchester Road is from local vendors with the exception of olive oil, cheese and butter. Bread is baked in-house.

Devoti says his customers know his support for the Slow Food movement. “We preached it when we started and we still follow it,” he says. “I think that’s why people seek us out.”

In 2006, before Devoti opened the first incarnation of Five Bistro, he attended a wine and beer tasting with Andy Ayers, who was then owner of Riddles Penultimate Café at 6307 Delmar Boulevard in The Loop neighborhood. (Ayers’ daughter now owns the restaurant, which still specializes in locally produced foods.) Ayers told Devoti to go to local farmers’ markets and talk to farmers about what he needed for the restaurant.

Today, Ayers serves as a liaison between farmers and chefs. Two years ago, Ayers started Eat Here St. Louis. His slogan is “Good Politics & Good Eatin’, too.” Strengthening the local agricultural economy is his goal. “I can add value to both halves of the equation – help chefs and help growers at the same time,” says Ayers.

Some of the restaurants in the metropolitan area emphasizing locally grown and produced food: Acero in Maplewood, BC’s Kitchen in Lake St. Louis, Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End, Cardwell’s at the Plaza at Plaza Frontenac, the Crossing in Clayton, the Delmar Restaurant in University City, the Dubliner downtown, Liluma in the Central West End, Niche in Benton Park, and the Terrace View downtown.