Element's executive chef, Tudor Seserman.
Tudor Seserman of Element (1419 Carroll Street, 314-241-1674)
was studying philosophy in graduate school when a friend showed him an article about an alum who'd left academia behind to open a restaurant. "I remember saying, 'I'm never going to be that guy,'" laughs Seserman. "And here I am."
Looking back on his path to the executive chef position at Element, Seserman sees that he was destined for the restaurant business. Ever since he was a fifteen-year-old living in New Jersey, Seserman was drawn to the kitchen. Even from his first cooking gig, he looked at the job as something more than just a way to earn a paycheck. "I needed money, but I wanted to do something interesting," Seserman explains. "I didn't just want a retail job or the sort of thing where I was just sitting around talking to people all day. I wanted something more fulfilling than that."
That first gig was at an upscale restaurant in New Jersey, where Seserman learned the basics from a chef who'd come up in the kitchens of big casinos. In retrospect, Seserman admits that the French and Italian-inflected New America cuisine he was serving was a bit stale — at least by today's standards — but it was a foundational experience that set the stage for where he is today. He started out as an inexperienced cook on the salad station, and worked his way up to second in command before leaving the restaurant to move to St. Louis for graduate school.
Seserman attended the University of Missouri-St. Louis' graduate program in philosophy, but he paid the bills by cooking at several restaurants around town — Araka, Prime 1000, Elaia. Though he loved philosophy, he found that academia pulled him directions that he did not want to go.
As it became increasingly apparent that a career in academia was unlikely, Seserman turned to what he already knew — cooking. After working for Ben Poremba at Elaia, he went on to help him open Old Standard and Parigi before moving on to his current position at Element.
Still, Seserman hasn't left his academic background behind completely. "I know many people have said it, but philosophy is a sickness," he explains. "Once you've done it, you never really escape it."
Seserman took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the importance of affordable local ingredients, his gelato habit and why you should never ask him what's not allowed in his kitchen.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I'm perfectly content with the amount of things people know about me.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
A trend towards smaller, more focused restaurants. Such places are able to hone in and do something very well. Union Loafers and Vista Ramen are good examples.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
Greater access to affordable local ingredients. I think there are some people doing great things, but I would love to see a whole lot more.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Ramon Cuffie, the executive chef at Parigi. He is the man I hope to one day become.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
David Bohlen [of Bohlen Family Farms] and really any of the farmers that are working hard to provide us with interesting quality produce: J.T. Gelineau, Anne Lehman, Greg Pusczek, Matt Tiefenbrun and more. They will have a deeper and wider influence on St. Louis' dining scene than any chef.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Salt. Provide your own self-deprecating jokes.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Probably still in grad school.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
I've always disliked this question. I have no categorical objections to any ingredient, with perhaps the exception of curly parsley. But even curly parsley has its decorative uses.
What is your after work hangout?
Lately, Gelateria del Leone is about the only place I spend time besides my apartment or work.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
What would be your last meal on earth?
Ciorba de burtă,
followed by sarmale
with mashed potatoes.
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