by Cheryl Baehr
For Heather Stone, farm-to-table is more than just a buzz phrase or food trend: It was a way of life. The soon-to-be executive chef of Taste (4584 Laclede Avenue; 314-361-1200) (she will take over for Matt Daughaday when he leaves to open his own place) grew up on a dairy farm in rural Iowa, tending to calves and drinking milk fresher than us urbanites can imagine. It's an experience that shaped who she was to become as a chef, though her biggest influence was her grandmother's vegetable garden. Tasting produce fresh from the garden, watching it change with the seasons and tending it with her own hands was revelatory: This is how food should be.
Stone's food philosophy will be on display in her new gig at Taste, as well her love of all things Mediterranean -- done with an approachable Midwestern style, she insists. She took a break from the acclaimed restaurant to share her thoughts on the St. Louis dining scene, her love of all things pho and why Wolverine's powers would come in handy in the kitchen.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I'm from Clinton, Iowa. I spent my childhood on a dairy farm, feeding calves bottles of fresh cows' milk, and chasing little piglets around.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? A daily ritual that I can just not survive a day without would be waking up before work to see my son. We get up and get ready for school during the week, make breakfast together and walk to school. That way I get to see him before spending the evening at work.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Wolverine's super healing power. Cuts and burns would be a worry no more.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? More than ever before, there has been a push for more local, seasonal and housemade. From the pasta at Pastaria to the charcuterie and local meat at Truffles Butchery at Bolyard's Meat & Provisions, St. Louis is pushing for a higher standard of fresh food. It's fantastic!
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Mai Lee's Qui [Tran]. Qui is a genuinely kind man, an insanely hard worker, and he's making some of the best food in St. Louis. With all he has on his plate, he's definitely someone to admire.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Matthew Daughaday. He's been such an amazing mentor to me. I am very sad to see him go but far more excited for him to succeed on his path.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Salt. I'm always saying, "More salt, that needs salt." There's never enough salt.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? What's going on in St. Louis is great. More and more restaurants are opening -- there's a more diverse scene. The industry here is raising the standard, pushing for bigger and better things, and I'm grateful to be a part of that movement.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. I would like to say there's no ingredient that I wouldn't allow in my kitchen. I don't want to snuff anyone's creativity, but, if you've ever had the pleasure of eating or smelling durian, you would understand why that would never be allowed in my kitchen.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Ice cream. Pho. Not necessarily together.
What would be your last meal on earth? I would have to say my great-grandmother's beef and noodles with a peanut butter sandwich and iced sun tea. My childhood in a nutshell.