Cassy Vires, chef-owner of Home Wine Kitchen (7322 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-802-7676), describes growing up in Sunnyland, Illinois, a small town outside of Peoria, as "living in Napoleon Dynamite -- just behind in everything!"
So where's her favorite non-food-related place to go, now that she lives in a more up-to-date city? "Forest Park. It's so classic and romantic."
Vires and her husband, Josh Renbarger, were married at the World's Fair Pavilion, and she often visits the zoo in her (limited) free time.
The zoo even influences unexpected aspects of Home: She's nicknamed some of the employees on staff. "We are a zoo here," she explains with a chef-ish smirk. "I am the zookeeper." Of a recent kitchen hire who goes by "Duck," she says, "We love calling his name. We just throw things at him and yell, 'Duck!'"
While Vires was quick to add levity to her interview with Gut Check, she is all business when it comes to talking food.
After treading water in a community college for a couple of years, her mother encouraged her to do something she loved, so Vires began looking for culinary schools.
Her search led her to the Art Institute of Houston, where she majored in culinary arts and restaurant management. She also met Renbarger there. Ultimately, though, Houston wasn't where she wanted to be.
"I was getting fed up with it," she says. "As a woman who wanted to be a chef, Houston wasn't the place for me. I had to run away from there screaming."
She and Renbarger decided to relocate to Indianapolis, where he finished law school while she pursued her journalism degree from Indiana University. "I took that time and devoted it to my writing," says Vires, who combines her love of food and writing in a regular column dedicated to cooking technique in Feast magazine.
Before opening Home this past June, Vires was the kitchen manager for the Viking Cooking School in Brentwood. Vires still teaches three classes every quarter for the Kitchen Conservatory, in addition to one class a month at Home's neighbor, Vom Fass. She believes it's crucial that school-age children learn about food.
"I think it's insanely important for kids to learn what food is, what goes in their food and how to cook it," she offers. "It's an important social skill, learning how to eat. And they need to understand ingredients, not boxes."
On this subject, like so many, Vires does not mince words: "I actually believe the more you know about food, the better person you are."