by Cheryl Baehr
Looking back on it, Joy Christensen admits she didn't know what she was getting into when she opened the Fountain on Locust (3037 Locust Street; 314-535-7800). She thinks that's a good thing. "I think that is how a lot of stuff gets done," she muses. "If people knew how hard some things would be, they wouldn't even try to do them."
Christensen's hard work has paid off. A former radio and television comedy writer, she now operates St. Louis' most whimsical restaurant, spreading ahem joy through the Fountain on Locust's boozy confections, ice cream and housemade food. Christensen won't call herself a chef -- in fact she's proud that the restaurant is more of an egalitarian culinary team -- though she tinkers away in her from-scratch kitchen, drawing inspiration from her old recipes and those that come from her fellow cooks. It's an impressive operation, considering that she had absolutely zero experience in the restaurant industry before opening.
"People thought I was really stupid or just crazy -- and they were right," Christensen says. But she doesn't hesitate when asked if it's been worth it. "I think the most rewarding thing was when I bumped into a parking-lot attendant for the first time -- he manned a lot down the street from the Fountain," she recalls. "He said, 'I can always tell when people are coming back from your place. They always look so happy.'"
Christensen took a break from making midtown a merrier place to share her thoughts on the St. Louis dining scene, going back for thirds and why it's important to laugh at your own jokes.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? Sometimes I make outrageous remarks I think are funny, and two years later I'll find out someone was upset by what I meant as a joke. It is never my intention to ever hurt anyone in any way. I have only love in my heart.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? I drink one or two full glasses of water first thing when I wake up. And I laugh really loud a lot. Mostly at my own jokes. Someone has to.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? To be able to control time so I could get more done and not be late as much. Someday I'll work on this -- when I get the time. Ha! I don't even have enough time to laugh more at this one right now.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Artisan and craft distillates. Over the past three years I've been working on perfecting spirit and liqueur recipes and bringing a micro distillery to fruition. It's good to see more bars infusing their own products and making their own bitters, tonics etc. Food is definitely moving toward traditional and although it will still be of a more elevated quality, it's going to be nice to finally say goodbye to ingredients you can't pronounce that are sometimes listed in menu items with little consideration for balance, effective combination or appetite appeal.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Would Gerard Craft [Niche] be mad if I said the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Actually I'd like to say Vito's mom. She makes a great chicken vegetable soup, and the Fountain on Locust is so much about having the best soups -- I'm a total soup snob. I say that with love in my heart. And marshmallow on my breath.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? The guy in front of me when I'm waiting for a table. Hahaha...other than that, I'd say there is no one person, because the "celebrity chef" era is slowing down to give way to teams of really great cooks who make the kind of food you really want to eat.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Apple cider vinegar and dill. Apple cider vinegar can take something bland and really wake it up, but it's still a little sweet, and dill sounds silly but gets the job done.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? It's great! As usual, St. Louis doesn't know how good we are. Just yesterday a customer from Kansas City told me how St. Louis has way more great restaurants than KC. And so many people are always driving down from Chicago to eat here.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. High-fructose corn syrup. Or anything fake.
What is your after-work hangout? Around the belt. Just kidding. I don't ever stop working.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Going back for thirds.
What would be your last meal on earth? The one my husband cooks. Hahaha! No, probably more like one made by someone not practicing ServSafe food safety -- you know who you are. I'll see you on the other side.