Retreat Gastrob's Adam Bingham found his way in the kitchen.
Adam Bingham had two brothers and one sister, but, for some reason, he was the one his mom always relied on for help in the kitchen.
"When mom cooked, I was the one she always leaned on," Bingham recalls. "Whether it was peeling potatoes, washing dishes or taking out the trash, I was always there with her. It was my way of showing her I cared."
Bingham, now executive chef at Retreat Gastropub (6 North Sarah Street; 314-261-4497)
, had a lot opportunities to help his mom. An avid entertainer, she loved cooking and would regularly have people over at the house where she would put together large spreads. It would take all day to make these feasts, but Bingham could see that she put forth all the effort because she loved making people happy. That was the part of cooking that appealed to him the most.
Bingham experienced that feeling firsthand while working his first kitchen job at Nachomamma's. Though he never though he'd make a career out of cooking, he still took every opportunity to learn as much as he could and worked his way up through the kitchen's ranks.
When Bingham headed off for college at Mizzou, he thought he'd left behind his work in the professional kitchen. His plan was to become a physical education teacher. However, it didn't take long for him to realize that the field wasn't for him.
"As soon as I started taking classes I learned there was a surplus of teachers and it would take several years for me to get a job," Bingham says. "Plus, the class load wasn't what I thought it would be, and we focused on things I wasn't so sure about. Every semester it got a little bit harder and I got a little bit more uninterested."
Bingham was not sure whether to continue with his studies, but that decision was ultimately made for him when tragedy struck his family. A few years into Bingham's college career, his mother suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and was left paralyzed. Knowing his mom would need him more than ever, Bingham left Mizzou to return home so that he could take care of her.
To make money during that time, he returned to his former job at Nachomamma's. At first, he viewed it simply as a way to pay the bills, but as he grew more and more comfortable in the kitchen, he realized he had a knack for cooking. Eventually, his path became clear.
"School was not going well and I was doing well in the kitchen, so I thought, 'Maybe I should go to culinary school,'" Bingham says. "My mom was supportive; my dad said it was a hard business. He was right, but I did it anyway and ended up on the dean's list four semesters straight. It was crazy, because I had been struggling with school before this."
During and after culinary school, Bingham continued to work at Nachomammas as well as other area restaurants such as Nippon Tei, Pastaria and Sardella. He filled his time off work by learning as much as he could about cooking on his own, researching recipes, following food blogs and watching food-centric television programs.
By the time he made his way to Retreat Gastropub, Bingham had figured out what was important to him in the kitchen: putting out simple yet refined food that allows the ingredients to speak for themselves while cultivating a collegial environment where people can speak their minds.
"I try to push out good food and learn as much as I can," Bingham says. "I tell people that I'm not perfect, and that if they see anything, we should talk. It's the only way I can get better."
Bingham has been in his role as executive chef for a little under a year and feels like he has hit his stride. During his tenure, he's realized the importance of the favorite dishes Retreat's regulars have come to expect while putting his own spin on things. He admits it can be a delicate balance, but he comes in every day with a positive attitude, grateful to be where he is.
"I genuinely like waking up and going to work," Bingham says. "It's a change of pace from most places. I'm happy to say I really love my job. I feel like I am just getting started."
Bingham took a break from the kitchen to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, why you should never ask him to microwave something for you and the lovely, outdoorsy way he and his mom stay connected.
What is one thing people don't know about you that you wish they did?
I'm a great gardener. From cultivating veggies and potting herbs to caring for roses, I love it all. We have a 34-square-foot raised bed. My grandpa taught me how to garden with the seasons at a very young age, and when my mom became paralyzed, I started gardening for her. I’ve been composting for seven years and growing on my own for four years. It’s something that I’ll be doing for the rest of my life.
What daily ritual is non-negotiable for you?
After-work wind-down with midnight SportsCenter.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Mind control would make my job in the kitchen a lot easier.
What is the most positive thing in food, wine or cocktails you've noticed in St. Louis over the past year?
I really love what Schlafly Beer does. They support local business and even grow their own herbs and veggies for the kitchen in addition to brewing their own beer. I also love the Schlafly Farmers Market on Wednesdays!
What is something missing in the local food, wine or cocktail scene that you'd like to see?
A 24/7 or later-than-3 a.m. eatery with scratch food.
Who is your St. Louis food crush?
The Laotian-Thai cuisine at Han Lao. It's fresh and fast and the perfect fusion of the two cuisines. It's also super affordable, one-of-a-kind food, and their spring rolls are ridiculous.
Who's the one person to watch right now in the St. Louis dining scene?
Kate Wagoner, the executive chef at Yellowbelly.
Which ingredient is most representative of your personality?
Jalapeño. Bright, but with a slight kick.
If you weren't working in the restaurant business, what would you be doing?
Probably coaching football or baseball.
Name an ingredient never allowed in your restaurant.
I'll use any ingredient, but there are defiantly no microwaves allowed.
What is your after-work hangout?
The Gramophone or Parlor. I love great sandwiches with a laid-back vibe.
What's your food or beverage guilty pleasure?
Anything sweet, like a milkshake with twenty different ingredients.
What would be your last meal on earth?
Mom's chicken and dumplings. It takes all day to make them, and you can taste the love. It’s a family recipe passed down for generations, and it can’t be replicated by anyone!
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