Chef's Choice, Part 2: Jarvis Putnam of Bossanova Restaurant and Martini Lounge


This is part two of Robin Wheeler's Chef's Choice interview with Jarvis Putnam of Bossanova Restaurant & Martini Lounge. To read part one, click here. Part three can be found here.

Jarvis Putnam of Bossanova Restaurant & Martini Lounge - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Jarvis Putnam of Bossanova Restaurant & Martini Lounge
Did your family cook when you were a child? If so, what meals stand out? It was always a big deal when my mom made manicotti, but aside from that, my mom and sister both make great homemade soups. In particular, my mom makes an Italian fish soup called cioppino with shrimp, clams and orange roughy. It is still my favorite soup to this day.

How old were you when you started cooking? About 9 or 10 at home, my first line cooking job when I was 15.

What was your first kitchen job? Dishwashing at Chris McD's Bar and Grill.

Did you attend culinary school or college?

What do you eat? Everything. It's a part of my job to try new things and to eat a variety of foods. I guess if there's one thing I eat the most, it's pizza. I never tire of pizza. Does anyone?

We'd be most surprised that you eat pork rinds.

What do you cook at home? Whatever I can get my fiancée to eat, mostly old-school classics: meatloaf, burgers, spaghetti, enchiladas, that sort of thing.

What are your 3 favorite restaurants in St. Louis, besides yours?
Gentelin's on Broadway (Alton, IL), Princivalli's Cafe (Alton), and a list of Asian restaurants too numerous to mention.

Local chef who most impresses you? Ryan Gentelin. His restaurant in Alton is a near-perfect white-tablecloth dining experience.

Favorite restaurants elsewhere?
Bangkok Gardens, Murry's, El Rancho and, for great bar food, Flat Branch brewpub, all in Columbia, Missouri.

Your favorite food city? Columbia, Missouri.

Favorite recent food find? My newfound love of green peppercorns, Giada's [De Laurentiis] new panini press, Yoplait Greek yogurt, J. Noto's Bakery in St. Charles, the cartoon Chowder. I should probably stop there.

Most essential ingredient in your kitchen?
Superlative flour.

Favorite local ingredient and where you get it?
Morel mushrooms, whoever's selling.

Five words to describe your food?
Trans-ethnic, new, familiar, universal, delicious.

One food you dislike. Baby corn.

One food you can't live without.
Pork. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, the pig is some kind of magical animal.

What's the first rule for your kitchen staff? We don't have time for bad habits, except drinking and smoking.

What ingredient will never be allowed in your kitchen? Velveeta.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis has the best...
Fried food, home of toasted ravioli, crab Rangoon and fried catfish; St. Louis's prowess in fried foods is second only to the British.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis has the worst... For a town on the river, it could have a better freshwater fish market. The lack of which may be attributed to the stigma surrounding river pollution, whether warranted or not.

Culinarily speaking, St. Louis needs more...
Quality Mexican or Hispanic cuisine, especially on the east side.

Your best tip for home cooks? For trying recipes for the first time, get four or five recipes of the same dish, figure out what they all have in common, then add or omit any extra ingredients based on your own personal taste.

Your favorite after-work hangout? Chez Marilyn's and Don and Penny's.

One person, dead or alive, you'd love to cook for?
My father and his father.

Favorite kitchen tool?
Emulsion blender.

What's next for you? Getting married, new menu coming out soon, figuring out a way to accommodate for lunch, and maybe back to school in a couple of years.

What inspires you?
Making people happy and the notion that I am only as good as my last dish.

Chefs who inspire you?
Anthony Bordain, Chef Ramsey, the crew at America's Test Kitchen.

Favorite cookbooks?
Whether it is $5 cookbook or a $50 cookbook, both will have recipes you will like and some you won't. I prefer to use the Internet for researching recipes.

Proudest professional moment?
Being in the Alton Telegraph and on the Post Dispatch's top ten list recipes of the year, for our Rueben pizza.

Favorite music to have in the kitchen?
Modern new wave, metal, rap and James Brown.

  • Robin Wheeler
What's on your pizza? Bacon, shrimp, tomatoes, feta cheese, mozzarella, with an olive oil-parmesan base.

What's in your omelet?
All the ingredients for the perfect Denver omelet. What are you drinking? Beefeater and tonic or Jim Beam rye and Coke.

What's the most surprising food you've eaten? Octopus -- it tastes a lot better than it looks.

What's the best request you've gotten from a customer?
A woman wanted me to put cheese she had brought in from home on her pizza. I was happy to do it for her and felt bad that she had to carry cheese in her purse.

Most difficult lesson you've learned in this business?
That you have to be willing to stand up for yourself to get paid what you feel you are worth.

When did you know for sure that the chef's life was for you?
Really in the last couple of years, the positive reaction we have received to Bossanova's kitchen has meant a lot to me. I also love the fact that although some of the people that cook for us may only do so temporarily, they can use the skills they've learned to cook for their loved ones for the rest of their lives.

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