Leon Augustus Braxton Jr., the soul behind Miss Leon's (3960 Chouteau Avenue; 314-652-0011) soul food, insists you refer to him as a cook and not a chef. He wasn't formally trained, he'll tell you, unless you count the untold hours he spent in his grandmother's kitchen.
Call him whatever you want, but there is no denying he is a master of Southern cooking.
Though he's been cooking his entire life, Braxton had a career path much different than that of a restaurateur. A mortgage banker by trade, he found himself in need of a new line of work when the financial crisis hit in 2008. Braxton saw this as an opportunity for reinvention and began cooking his soon-to-be famous fried chicken at Rehab Bar & Grill. He developed such a following that when owners Chad Fox and Jim Weckmann opened their new concept, Bomber's Hideaway, they gave Braxton the reins of the kitchen.
From his tiny corner inside of Bomber's, Braxton operates Miss Leon's, a Southern-style soul food restaurant with all-you-can-eat fried chicken Sundays that pack the house. Braxton took a break from the fryer to share his thoughts on his rituals, his peppery persona, and his taste for Southern Comfort.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? That I am horribly shy.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Taking my hormones first thing in the morning. Due to my gender mosaic I'm in menopause and I have to take them every day, sometimes twice a day.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? The ability to run fast. I would love to be The Flash.
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? The rise in comfort/Southern/soul food.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Bryan Young [Catering Plus].
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Me. I'm not being self absorbed. I just believe in myself.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Crushed red pepper, because it is made from hot dried red peppers and is not made of one type of chili, but from various combinations of ancho, bell, cayenne and other dried red peppers. Much like myself.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? I would say that it's bursting at the seams with some great new comfort food restaurants. It seems that fried chicken is making a resurgence. I think people are looking for food that reminds them of home and their childhood.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Barilla pasta.
What is your after-work hangout? My apartment. Because I spend so much time at work and in public there is no place like home to unwind and relax.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? Southern Comfort.
What would be your last meal on earth? That's easy! A classic wedge salad, smothered oxtails over buttered rice with fried cabbage, cornbread and an ice-cold Stella Artois. Dessert would be a shot of Southern Comfort.
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