Chef Michael Petres of Porano Pasta.
Michael Petres, the executive chef at Porano Pasta (634 Washington Ave., 314-833-6414) didn't go into the kitchen looking for a cooking gig — it found him. "When I was twenty, I needed a job, so I went looking for a place close to my house to wash dishes at," Petres recalls. "I walked into this restaurant, and they said, 'We don't need a dishwasher, we need a cook.' I said, 'Well, see you later,' but they told me if I worked hard they'd train me up."
Before he knew it, Petres was doing prep work, running the grill and coming up with the day's specials. "The chef there taught me how to make stock, how to hold a knife. He bought me my first cookbook," Petres says. The supportive environment instilled in him a love of cooking and restaurant culture.
Petres wasn't quite ready to commit to a career as a cook, but after a hiatus from the industry, he found himself at Balaban's, the landmark fine dining restaurant (now in Chesterfield). There he began to take things more seriously. He began reading on his own, perfecting his techniques and learning everything he could, preparing himself to one day become a sous chef.
Instead, Petres now finds himself working as an executive chef for Gerard Craft's growing St. Louis empire, at one of the most anticipated restaurants of the year. "I started out working at Brasserie by Niche as a prep cook," Petres explains. "The chef saw that I could do things like shuck oysters; he'd ask me to stay late. It just grew from there."
After Petres worked his way up to executive chef at Pastaria, Craft tapped him to head Porano, his fast-casual concept that opened late last year. At the wildly successful downtown spot, Craft has allowed Petres not only to develop a menu, but to design the kitchen from scratch.
Petres laughs when he recalls his first job as a teenager, working at a Sbarro at the mall: "I mean, I've technically worked quick-service in the past, but I wasn't exactly paying attention to things like ergonomics when I was seventeen."
Petres took a break from Porano to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his penchant for adventure photography and why nothing in his kitchen is off the table.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I got into cooking by accident.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Drinking a cup of French press coffee at home in the morning while I “plan my day” (a.k.a. look at Instagram).
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
To control the kinetic energy of atoms. No more waiting for things to heat up or cool down in the kitchen!
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I love that the craft brewing industry is still growing strongly. There are so many great small breweries here doing interesting stuff.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Can I have a beverage crush? Cory King of Side Project Brewing. I don’t get in to Side Project often enough, but those beers are amazing.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Brian Hardesty at Guerrilla Street Food, along with his business partner, Joel Crespo. Those guys keep pushing new ideas with a very unique cuisine. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll be up to this summer.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
That’s a tough one to nail down, but maybe an adventure photographer. I love the outdoors and to play around with photography, and some of my favorite Instagram feeds are of adventure photography. I think I would love that.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
I tried hard to think of one, but I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t want to try.
What is your after-work hangout?
I pretty much go straight home after work. If it’s nice, I’m relaxing on the porch or in the garden.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
The little candy-coated Cadbury chocolate eggs. Around Easter, I eat a lot of them.
What would be your last meal on earth?
The cassoulet at Brasserie. And then the burger. And fries.
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