by Cheryl Baehr
Every Sunday when she was growing up, Clementine's Tamara Keefe's parents would pack up her large Irish-Italian brood and head off to church. After services, Keefe would watch as all of the other families dashed off to get ice cream while hers had to do without. As she'd come to understand when she got older, her parents didn't have much money and couldn't afford frozen treats for Keefe and her four older brothers.
Her luck would change one Sunday when she and her family stopped at a garage sale on their way home from Mass. Keefe's mom spotted an old, hand-crank style ice cream maker and brought it home with them. "Do your chores, change clothes, and meet me in the kitchen in an hour," Keefe's mom said to her. Keefe has been making ice cream ever since.
It's only recently that Keefe turned her passion for ice cream into a full-fledged career. Until 2012, Keefe was on the fast track in corporate America, working a job that had her traveling 262 days that year. "My family and friends thought that I had made it — that I had this super glamorous life," Keefe explains. "I was miserable, though. I was on a vacation at the lake with some friends and I completely broke down. My friend looked at me and said, 'Well quit, then. Make ice cream.'"
The idea intrigued Keefe, who promptly began to put a plan together for an ice cream shop. Word quickly spread amongst her friends and neighbors, who began requesting Keefe's wares. One of those friends was hosting a dinner party and asked her to come up with some exotic flavors. Little did Keefe know, some of the city's top chefs would be in attendance. They were dazzled and immediately asked her to start supplying for their restaurants. "I planned on opening the shop first," Keefe recalls, "but things just started happening."
One of those chefs, Kevin Brennan of Brennan's in the Central West End asked Keefe is she could put booze in her ice creams, but she was stumped. "Alcohol doesn't freeze," she explains. "Still, he pushed me to try to figure something out. I got together with several of my friends who were food scientists. We all got together one weekend and actually figured it out."
Keefe is in the process of patenting her technique. In the meantime, though, she keeps plugging along at Clementine's, making her parents proud one scoop at a time. "My family thought I was crazy when I quit my job," Keefe says. "Now they are really proud of me. My mom has passed away, but I know she is looking down on me."
Keefe took a break from her making her naughty and nice concoctions to share her thoughts on the St. Louis dining scene, her last meal on earth, and eating ice cream for breakfast.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did? I eat ice cream for breakfast every singe day, and I was a competitive ballroom dancer and have a crazy passion for world music.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you? Having my love (Frank Uible) make me coffee and eggs with truffle salt every morning.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be? I would love to be Invisible; I am such a voyeur!
What is the most positive trend in food, wine or cocktails that you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year? Such amazing restaurants are opening in the city; I love that people from all over flock into our hip little neighborhoods for unique eats.
Who is your St. Louis food crush? Most definitely, Zoe Robinson, owner of Bar Les Freres and I Fratellini. She is smart, sexy, passionate, subtle, and has brought her love of the world and food to create beautiful restaurants in St Louis that have consistently amazing food and service, and the most authentic atmospheres.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene? Simon Lusky, head chef and nutritionist for the Cardinals and owner of Athlete Eats/Revel Kitchen. He is making healthy food taste amazing and making it accessible to everyone. Who knew vegan cheese could taste so good?
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality? Cumin! It's warm, sexy, spicy, sweet, earthy, funky, savory, deep, with an edge of citrus peel, and a twist of that umami funk like porcinis, romano, etc.— if it was an instrument, it would be a funky bass guitar.
If someone asked you to describe the current state of St. Louis' culinary climate, what would you say? It's under recognized, with pockets of greatness.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen. Anything artificial and yams...YUCK!
What is your after work hangout? Strolling in my magical neighborhood of Lafayette Square.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure? In the morning, soggy Life Cereal and at night Billecart Salmon Champagne procured from Parker's Table in Clayton.
What would be your last meal on earth? Flown in from Paris, it would be Relais de L'Entrecôte's walnut salad, tender sirloin steak served with its famous sauce and golden, thin-cut pomme frites..... and my Manchego with truffles and honey ice cream!