by Cheryl Baehr
It's been quite a year for pop-up chef-turned restaurateur John Perkins. First came the opening of his permanent restaurant, Juniper (360 North Boyle Avenue; 314-329-7696) -- already considered one of the city's best. Then came his Iron Fork win, where he somehow managed to turn beef liver into a bright and delicate panzanella salad. And Entre, his original underground dinner concept? It's now a thriving catering business. As if these feats weren't enough, Perkins somehow managed to indulge his pop-up roots as the chef for the inaugural Salon1500, an underground dinner for the city's entrepreneurial set. It's enough to make one's head spin.
Perkins took a break from his overachieving to share his thoughts on the state of the St. Louis restaurant scene, reveal who he has his eye on, and educate us on a positively obscene dish called a "Steak Double Down." Do not attempt it without doctor supervision.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I suppose it might be of interest to some, although more than likely morbid interest for most, that I have five children. I am not sure that qualifies as information I wish people knew about me, but I am drawing a blank as to what else might suffice as an answer.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Don't really have one. Not much of a shaver, not into yoga, hate excercise. I do make lunches every morning for my kids, so there's that.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Being in more than one place at once, while being fully present at each place.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? While not a trend exactly, I think it's really awesome how the food scene has grown in the last few years. It used to be just a couple restaurants and now the city is teeming with them. It's awesome. You know, rising tide and all that.
It's long been a conviction of mine that we need to have more in the way of neighborhood restaurants. We are after all a city of townships and neighborhoods. However, for a long time most of the restaurants in this town were clustered in commercial areas. But that trend is changing. Farmhaus, Quincy Street Bistro, the Purple Martin, Olio and Elaia and even Juniper are all part of a growing trend of putting great restaurants and watering holes in the middle of residential areas rather than commercial districts. I think this is a very good thing for the overall health and vitality of the city.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Chris Bork [formerly of Blood and Sand].
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Josh Polletti at the Libertine, and of course Ryan McDonald from Juniper. Heard that place was hot right now.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Black walnuts -- slightly acerbic, obviously nutty, but on the whole delectable.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? Growing, exciting.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Margarine.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Food: Everything that's bad for me. Beverage: Same.
What would be your last meal on earth? Probably a "Steak Double Down"...two rib eye's instead of bread, with fried chicken in the middle. If it wasn't my last meal on earth on purpose, it would be as a result.