Hooked on Cheese Chef Spotlight: Chef Kevin Nashan

This celebrated St. Louis chef knows his way around cheese
Sidney Street Cafe

Nashan has been nominated for four James Beard Awards. 

This is the second installment in Hooked on Cheese’s series focusing on outstanding chefs who reign at restaurants off the beaten path in smaller cities across the USA. Raymond will introduce each of these fantastic chefs de cuisine and share one of their unique recipes with The Daily Meal. Enjoy!

Chef Kevin Nashan is the four-time James-Beard-Award-nominated executive chef and owner of Sidney Street Café, a celebrated St. Louis restaurant that has been going strong under Nashan’s guidance for 11 years. He also opened a second restaurant just down the street from the Café this past October, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., which focuses on seafood (naturally!) and Southern-inspired American dishes. For this week’s column, I interviewed chef Nashan about what inspired him to become a chef, what’s special about his culinary vision, and, because I’m “the cheese guy,” how he likes to use artisan American cheeses in his cooking.

Thanks for taking time for this interview. I understand you’re in the process of opening a second restaurant?
Yup. It's been crazy, but a good crazy. There’s not enough time in a day!

Could you tell me a little bit of your culinary background and history?
Long story short: I grew up in the industry. I was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where my family had a restaurant [the now-closed, venerated La Tertulia] for 22 years. I grew up working as a dishwasher — I took the trash out, worked the back of the house, etc. — then moved to front of the house, then worked my way up the ranks in the kitchen. That’s where I discovered I loved working with food, so I decided to go to culinary school and here I am today.

How long have you been at your current restaurant? And how would you describe the type of cuisine?
I’ve been at Sidney Street for 11 years this November. It’s owned by me, my wife Mina, and my brother Chris. Sidney Street has a rustic, elegant atmosphere with a mélange of culinary influences. My background is all over the place, but I’d say it’s primarily New American with Southern influences. I’ve worked with many different types of cuisine: I’ve cooked at La Francais in Chicago, at Martín Berasategui in Spain, and at Daniel (among other restaurants) in New York City. And my grandfather is Polish, hence my hashed-chiles-in-pierogi dish. The new place is more focused and straightforward: it’s a lobster shack, serving lots of shellfish, which I love. I wanted to connect the seafood styles of Maine and Louisiana without a fussy menu: there’s traditional lobster and crab rolls, po'boys, and Acadian food. We serve both chowders and gumbos, and the concept has been well received (see here and here) so far. Since I have two kids, I made sure it would be kid-friendly, too: we have corn dogs, hush puppies, and fried green tomatoes.

Moving onto cheese: how do you feel about the state of American cheese at present?
Well, with both European and even with American cheeses right now, there are so many reins put on the cheese by the government. In Europe, the cheese plates are 45 cheeses; here, we're pretty stifled by the rules that are currently in place. But there are still a whole lot of great American options out there, and I definitely love using them in my cooking.

What are some of your favorite American cheese producers?
When you love cheese, you love cheese; I feel like I'm having to pick a favorite child! I love sharp Vermont Cheddars. I love Dunbarton Blue from Wisconsin. It's like wine; it develops on your palate — such a complex cheese with so many production components. Locally: I love Baetje Farms goat cheese.

Check out chef Nashan’s recipe for a delicious caramelized onion tart featuring Baetje Farms goat cheese here. It’s perfect to warm you up during the fall and winter months and it will bring some of the artistry of this fantastic chef straight into your kitchen.

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You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.