When Kevin Nashan grew up, one can only assume that his family’s favorite awards show wasn’t the Oscars. Were they Tonys people or Emmys people? I would guess, based on recent events, that they’re now loyal James Beard Awards viewers – as Kevin was honored this week for the second time.
Last night, two St. Louisian chefs – Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe and Kevin Williman of Farmhaus – were honored as finalists for Best Midwest Chef at the 2016 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards in Chicago, but sadly didn’t bring the title back home to St. Louis.
Chefs from Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin all were considered for the award, but ultimately it went to Paul Berglund of the The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. This affair might not be as glamorous at other award shows, but the James Beard Awards are more or less the Oscars of food. While neither chef from here won the title, having 2 of the 5 finalists be from our city is a testament to the rapidly improving food scene of St. Louis. I was lucky enough to talk with Chef Nashan and get his thoughts on the awards and food scene in St. Louis.
Spoon: Your first experience in the food business was at your grandparent’s restaurant La Tertulia. How did this inspire you?
KN: “It was a great experience. At the time, I didn’t know anything different, and tried to get out of the food scene after a while, but it sucked me right back in. I studied political science and marketing at St. Louis University, having a vision of law school, but didn’t like it towards the end. Instead I used culinary school as grad school, and started to take trash out all over the place.”
Spoon: You’ve cooked in San Sebastian, Spain and other places around the world. Is there any place that was your favorite?
KN: “I was fortunate to go all over and can’t argue what is best. They were all incredible restaurants and I was very fortunate to learn different skills at different places that were all unique and challenging.”
Spoon: How is cooking different in Europe compared to the USA?
KN: “Becoming a chef in Europe is more like an apprenticeship. Kids there at age 15 or 16 start their training and by age 24 they’re little ninjas in the kitchen. In the USA, people get into it because it’s cool or forced. In my time there I got to see a different point of view from this. Ultimately, it doesn’t make you a great chef necessarily, but these chefs were very disciplined, and almost militant.”
Spoon: Daniel, one of the most acclaimed restaurants in the USA, is on your resume. How was your experience working there?
KN: “Daniel was unbelievable and never-ending from start to close. It was very high pressure. The restaurant was one of these places that helps you create the chef you want to become.”
Spoon: Your cooking style blends together various heritages, but how do they all work together?
KN: “Life makes you. That is what happens when you’re Hispanic growing up, but also Polish and German. Southern cooking and my French training has made an influence on the food, which is very soulful cooking.”
Spoon: You have cooked in many competitions, was there any particular one that was your favorite?
KN: “All competitions are challenging, and even a pain in the butt. Some are better than others, but I don’t want to get anything other than grow and learn in these competitions.”
Spoon: What was it like to cook for President Obama?
KN: “It was a surreal experience, pretty awesome and amazing. I cooked for him here in town at a private residence. It was very neat and a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Spoon: In the little time you have outside of the kitchen, what do you like to do?
Spoon: You and Craft have a good relationship, but what is the chef community like, as a whole, in St. Louis?
KN: “The chef community here is very collaborative. It takes a village.”
Spoon: Do you have any restaurant plans for the future?
KN: “You never know about future ventures.”
Q: How do these nominations help the St. Louis food scene?
“Any time St. Louis is out there it helps in lots of capacities. There’s lots of really good restaurants. The food scene has really grown in the last 5 to 10 years, putting more tracks on the path wherever that leads us.”
Q: Do you know Chef Williman, the other finalist from St. Louis, well?
“We totally know each other and have done multiple dinners together. He did the 10 year anniversary dinner for Sidney Street Cafe and we have done charity stuff together.”
Q: What’s it like to be a James Beard finalist?
“I’ve been nominated a lot, in 2014 and this year. I’m very grateful to get in on it. It’s a pinch yourself type of moment. I’m happy for my team, but it’s also no good having an award if no customers come. It’s neat to have peers and food writers give praise. I don’t go for the award but it’s awesome when someone pats you on back.”