- COURTESY OF QUATTRO TRATTORIA & PIZZERIA
- Chef Josh Wedel.
Josh Wedel can't help but laugh when he recalls his dad's lackluster response to his decision to go to culinary school.
"When I told my parents that I wanted to be a chef instead of an electrical engineer, my mom understood right away," Wedel recalls. "My dad, however, was on the fence about it. He just hadn't heard a lot about people doing that. But after my first three months at school, I came back home and cooked him prime rib, he was like, 'OK, yep. This is legit.'"
In retrospect, Wedel's parents should not have been surprised with his change of career plans. The southern Illinois native, who is executive chef at the new Quattro Trattoria & Pizzeria (811 Spruce Street, 314-552-5850)
inside the Westin St. Louis, showed an interest in cooking as far back as he can remember. As a young boy, he would stand next to his mother on a stool in their kitchen, watching and learning as she prepared the family's meals.
As he got older, Wedel grew even more passionate about cooking. In middle school, he would make food for his friends when they came over for sleepovers, and in high school, he ran a little catering operation, cooking for his teachers. Not surprisingly, when it came time to get a job, he found himself in the culinary field, working in grocery store delis through high school and into college.
After leaving his electrical engineering program, Wedel enrolled in culinary school at the Florida Culinary Institute, where he received degrees in culinary arts and food and beverage management. Throughout school, Wedel continued to work in grocery stores, a path he admits was less about passion than familiarity.
"It's where I was comfortable," Wedel admits. "I wanted to be a chef, and I wanted to work in restaurants, but I was intimidated."
Wedel would get his chance to make that transition into the restaurant business when he moved back to St. Louis following graduation. While looking for a serving job for herself, his wife came across an opportunity for Wedel at the Westin St. Louis. The pair went to the job fair to apply, but only one of them got the gig.
"I made it through seven interviews, and she didn't make it past the first," Wedel laughs. "I got the job and was super pumped. She wasn't too happy."
Wedel started at the Westin as a line cook, then worked his way up to sous chef within five years. When the hotel was bought by new owners in 2017, he was promoted to executive chef and tasked with reinventing its restaurant. According to Wedel, Quattro Trattoria & Pizzeria, which opened last month, represents what he saw as a gap in downtown's dining options, where bar food is the norm.
When he's not in Quattro's kitchen making its signature one-pound meatball, Wedel can be found in his own kitchen, teaching his kids just like his mom taught him. Both his son and his daughter have taken to cooking, though his daughter seems to be taking it and running with it — and showing up her dad in the process.
"My daughter just has the temperament for cooking, and she loves to bake," Wedel says. "She can outdo me on some things, too. When I try to make macarons, they never turn out right. She got them right the first time she ever made them. She's killing it."
Wedel took a break from the kitchen — and getting schooled in baking by his daughter — to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his passion for health and wellness, and why he is proud to liken himself to the humble potato.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
I come from a town that is surrounded by cornfields and has a population of less than 1,000 people.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
Going to work out at Crossfit Edwardsville. I hate when I have to miss or skip a workout. If I do, I usually try to make it up later in the day.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Strength — to be able to lift large amounts of weight would be awesome.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails that you’ve noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I think the camaraderie among all the chefs in St. Louis is impressive and goes to show why the food scene here has become as big as it has.
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you’d like to see?
I know we have some, but we need more upscale gastropubs. Love them.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
Sauce on the Side. Ever since they opened, I thought it was an amazing concept. Now to see how much they have grown and are expanding — it's truly a great accomplishment.
Who’s the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Mike Johnson of Sugarfire Smoke House. I love his creativity, and the items he is coming up with are amazing.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Potatoes. I know they are plain and boring, but you can do so many fun and creative things with them. That’s my personality — versatile. I love being all over the place and have so many different traits.
If you weren’t working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
I would probably work in a gym as a nutritionist and personal trainer. I love helping others with food.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
White pepper. I don’t like it for anything.
What is your after-work hangout?
Usually at home with the family.
What’s your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Cookies are my weakness — I love warm, fresh-baked cookies. Beverage-wise, it’s a toss-up between an IPA and Tito’s with club soda. Those are my go-to drinks.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Black Angus burger topped with barbecue sauce, crispy pork belly and a fried egg served with Parmesan truffle oil skinny fries and a warm chocolate chip cookie with a large cold IPA.
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