Pastaria's chef de cuisine, Evy Dick.
Evy Dick of Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603)
had big plans for her culinary empire, dating all the way back to middle school. "By the time I was in sixth grade, I wanted to open a food truck," Dick recalls. "This was way before they were cool. I was so set on it that when I was writing my thank you notes for my eighth grade graduation gifts, I'd tell everyone that I was going to put the money toward my food truck."
No one was surprised by her business plan. As long as she can remember, Dick was in the kitchen, eschewing Pop Tarts and pre-packaged fare for home-cooked food. Her mother gave her free rein in the kitchen and fostered her passion for cooking by encouraging her creativity. "I used to come home from school and my mom would ask me what we should have for dinner," Dick recalls. "I'd take whatever was in the refrigerator and make some bowl out of rice or veggies or anything I'd find. My mom called it 'Evy Chow.'"
Dick was singularly focused on turning her "Evy Chow" into a career and wanted to pursue cooking in lieu of college. After graduating high school, she got a good job working on the line at the Lodge of the Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks — one she talked her way into even though her only professional food service experience at the time had been at Subway.
However, her father insisted that she get a four-year degree, so Dick pursued studies in dietetics at Mizzou. There, her classroom learning was matched by the experience she gained working in the kitchen at the university's alumni center. Because it was a teaching kitchen, she got to experiment with different ingredients and techniques — an experience that gave her the confidence to pursue her next gig at 44 Stone Public House in Columbia, where her sous chef connected her to Brasserie's Brian Moxey.
Moxey was Dick's introduction to Gerard Craft, who recognized her potential and gave her a shot on the line at Pastaria. Four years later, she's worked her way up to chef de cuisine at the wildly popular Italian spot, a promotion she credits not only to her love of cooking, but also to her rigorous training in her other passion: dance.
When it comes to dance and cooking, "the discipline, energy, passion and dedication are nearly identical," Dick explains. "People who knew me when I was younger are surprised that I am a chef and not dancing anymore ... except on the line in the kitchen."
Dick took a break from the line to share her thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, her love of the city's small, independent restaurants and why everything is better with 'nduja.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I’ve competitively danced my entire life. I know that most wouldn’t compare a ballerina and a chef, but the discipline, energy, passion and dedication are nearly identical. When I’m expediting a busy service, I’ll tell my line cooks “let’s dance” and they know I’m going to jump in and help push out the dishes as quick as we can, as a team. It’s my favorite part about a service. It’s a beautiful and fun routine.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Honestly, I think that I should probably take a step back and make time for something that I do for myself every day and make it a priority.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Teleportation, for sure. I had the opportunity to travel the world with my family growing up. Most of the time, when I’m creating dishes, I’m remembering a certain smell or taste or feeling that I experienced in a certain place. If I could just go straight there, just for a minute, I would be on another level.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I am loving the gourmet cocktail trend. Bartenders are becoming more like chefs. Each aspect of their cocktails involve so much thought and technique. At the same time, chefs can offer a ton to the bartender. It’s not “front of house/ back of house” anymore.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I would love to see more coverage of authentic cuisine. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to see cuisines brought to a new level by modern chefs. However, I think there are some hidden gems in St.Louis that are overlooked because of their lack of advertisement. The “Mideast Market” on Manchester has the best gyros in all of St. Louis, in the back corner of their small grocery store. Coming back from India, I couldn’t help but crave a street kebab. I didn’t have to look too far to actually find it. I think the small neighborhood markets with genuine products and recipes need to be recognized and supported.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Probably Mark Sanfilippo of Salume Beddu. He has turned his passion into an empire. There’s nothing more to say….. except everything is better with 'nduja.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
There are many negative connotations with lemons, but I can’t think of one thing that’s wrong with them. I believe a lemon (somewhat) represents my personality because I’m mostly behind the scenes, but it makes all the difference in the outcome. When I add lemon to a dish, I do it for balance. When something is balanced, it’s right.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
After my dad (a very smart man) told me I had to get a four-year degree before doing anything culinary, I decided to go to school for dietetics. I wanted to be a specialty chef for elderly people with particular health problems. I’ve always thought I would be helping elderly people or an art teacher. When I retire one day, I still think I’ll try to become an art teacher.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your kitchen.
This is a very difficult one for me because I’m known to add about anything to my recipes. Probably, margarine ... or pre-made pasta.
What is your after-work hangout?
My boyfriend and I just bought a house a couple months ago. So, after work, I cannot get home quickly enough to sit on my kitchen counter and have a glass of wine and relax with him.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Potato chips. I love potato chips.
What would be your last meal on earth?
A French dip roast beef sandwich. Hands down.
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