Chef's Choice: Anthony Devoti, Five and Newstead Tower Public House

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Anthony Devoti of Five and Newstead Tower Public House - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Anthony Devoti of Five and Newstead Tower Public House
"I think that every food writer should be forced to put their credentials on their write-ups every single week. I don't understand how you can write about what goes on in a kitchen if you haven't worked in a kitchen," Chef Anthony Devoti tells me as I tear into the roasted poulet he's set before me at Five, his restaurant on the Hill. "You can't write about food if you don't understand flavors and if you don't know where things come from."

If it helps, the 31-year-old Devoti and I both attended the culinary program at St. Louis Community College - Forest Park a decade ago. Afterwards, I dabbled in catering and teaching, while he went on to graduate from New York's French Culinary Institute, eventually working at Zuni Café in San Francisco before returning to St. Louis to open Five and Newstead Tower Public House.

Even before working with Zuni's Judy Rogers -- a St. Louis native and one of the early proponents of local foods -- Devoti had a growing interest in local ingredients: "At the restaurant prior to Zuni, that's when I started to get into local...buy local, and support local economy and people. See how much fresher and better everything is."

If he can buy an ingredient locally, he does. Not just because it's trendy, but because of his deep-rooted values.

"We could probably make a pretty good turn on things if we were buying Tyson chicken instead of Benne's Farm chicken. But that's a belief. What's your belief? What do you really feel in your heart is right and proper to do?"

We had the bar at Five to ourselves, since they only serve dinner. When I arrived Devoti offered me a seat and a glass of water before excusing himself to the kitchen to check the poulet. Every time he went into the kitchen, I could hear him whistling as soon as the door closed behind him. It's the sound of a content person, happy with the task at hand, whether it's feeding a food writer or long conversations with Riddles founder Andy Ayers about potatoes. Contentment also comes from doing the right thing, from supporting the local economy to offering health insurance to his employees to knowing the people who reside in Five's neighborhood on the Hill.

ANTHONY DEVOTI'S ROASTED POULET
  • Anthony Devoti's roasted poulet
At one point he stops our conversation and tells me to look out the window, where a burly fellow's walking two dogs. "He goes by here several times a day. In the morning he has a husky and another big dog, but in the afternoon he's got two of those tiny little dogs, and he holds their leashes like they're the big dogs. It's hilarious!"

Devoti thrives on this kind of community, where everyone knows the dog walker, and everyone opens their doors at dinnertime and sits on their front porches in the evenings. It's an ages-old concept that got lost in the shuffle of American culture somewhere down the line.

"People in Europe have been eating like this forever. This is like a new fad that we're not buying our food from Sysco. Well, that's the way Grandma and Grandpa used to buy. You raised the chickens. Ron raised the hogs. I was the bread baker. And it all went like this -- whoosh. And you know what? We all ate, and we all worked together. And instead of communicating through email, we went and looked each other in the eye. That's the way things worked."

Devoti's food reflects his honesty. His poulet with roasted vegetables is just about as simple and classic as food gets. It's also his favorite. As much as he loves cooking, he doesn't do it much on his days off.

"I don't typically cook on those days. I drink a lot of coffee. I drink a lot of beer. That takes a lot of my time. What do I eat at home? Cheese quesadillas with Sriracha. If I have any greens, I throw those in there. Eggs. I eat a lot of eggs. And Grape-Nuts. I like Grape-Nuts in chocolate milk."

ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
While Grape-Nuts in chocolate milk does sound delicious, his roast poulet is far better. Tender meat with crispy skin piled atop tiny potatoes, turnips, and a melange of late-summer vegetables that have melted into a sauce from the oven's high heat. When I pick up a fork, Devoti shakes his head and tells me to just tear into it with my hand.

"People come here to here to eat and to drink. This is an experience. You're not coming to this restaurant just to sit down and chow. That's not the way it works here. Or certainly not the way it's intended to work. I do think you come here to have a beautiful glass of wine and a beautiful dinner. And you can have one glass or you can have six glasses. It's really about taste and things that work together. Live in the now. Drink, have beautiful food and beautiful drink, and be happy. There's no reason to try to force anything."

Coming later today: The recipe for Devoti's roast poulet.

Robin Wheeler writes the blog Poppy Mom. She is a regular contributor to Gut Check, including the columns The Dive Bomber and Throwback of the House.