by Cheryl Baehr
"I'm a pastry chef's worst nightmare," Mary Boehne laughs. "I don't measure things all of the time. I've gotten really good at eyeballing. I probably shouldn't admit this." Perhaps it's this irreverence that led Boehne to leave her job as pastry chef at the Four Seasons to take on her new role as corporate chef for start-up-minded Strange Donuts (2709 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-932-5851). It wouldn't be the first time she has made such a move.
After graduating from Forest Park's culinary school, Boehne worked at St. Louis Country Club, and then left that position for the anarchist Black Bear Bakery. "It comes down to the fact that I prefer to be in an environment where I feel like I am more connected to the overall picture," Boehne explains. "I like smaller-scale situations where I know that my decisions are having a direct impact on the business."
"Believe it or not, I am being challenged more at Strange Donuts than anywhere else I have ever worked," says Boehne. "They are so creative -- always evolving and changing. It's been great to be a part of a group of pioneers."
Boehne took a break from brainstorming her next round of doughnut concoctions to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food scene,
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I have a pet bunny named Michael. He likes to take long walks, play ball and eat bananas.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I need to have coffee in the morning. Unfortunately, it's a habit I have tried to break, but like a true addict, I leap off the wagon every time.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I want the power to turn off the light switch without having to get out of bed. I believe they call it a Clapper. It will be on my Christmas list this year, everyone.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Local, local, local! Everyone is sourcing from local farms, which has led to a new generation of young farmers. It's awesome to see the skill involved and such talented people supporting themselves with nothing but their hard work and self-motivation.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Out of total respect, Nathaniel Reid [formerly of the Ritz-Carlton]. He is absurdly talented and one of the nicest, most humble people I have ever met. He makes it cool to not be one of the traditional egotistical chefs just because he is extremely successful. He is the new industry standard.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Chris Bolyard [at Bolyard's Meat & Provisions] for sure. He's doing it right, opening an old-school butcher shop, supplying local beef, pork and poultry along with all the fixins. I can't wait for it to open so that I can literally bring home the bacon.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? A persimmon. Depending on the day, it can either be sweet and tender or brutally astringent.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? Booming! There are so many culinary gems opening. With so much talent emerging, it drives every chef to push harder and be better. It's a great feeling knowing that our community is supporting our craft. It makes it all worth it.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. I really hate margarine. It serves no purpose to me.
What is your after-work hangout? After work, I try to unwind and spend time with my family. If I'm not at home with my new husband, I'm generally visiting with my sister and parents. Otherwise, it depends on my mood. More than likely, John and I will end up at Tucker's Place for a killer burger and the Blues game.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? I could pound a cheesy gordita crunch from Taco Bell any day of the week. I'm not proud to admit it, but what can I say? I'm a south-city girl at heart.
What would be your last meal on earth? Thanksgiving Day leftovers, hands down.