Including Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma, the Ozarks is a geographic region known for its mountainous topography, forests and tourism. The region also has a unique culinary history.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined by St. Louis native and chef Rob Connoley. The James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef Southwest is planning to open Bulrush, a restaurant rooted in Ozark cuisine, this April in Grand Center.
Connoley’s research toward his new restaurant has involved learning about the region’s settlers and residents as well as how a contemporary take on its culinary history manifests.
What is Ozark cuisine?
Connoley said it’s a sub-genre of Southern cooking that goes beyond the foods that are currently grown locally in that region.
“What's more interesting is what were they doing in the 1800s? Especially the early 1800s,” he explained. “Because to answer the question, ‘What is Ozark cuisine?’ I have to say, how is it different than Southern cuisine or Appalachian cuisine, when it's the same folks that were emigrating?”
“To me the Ozark cuisine is the stories and the memories and the traditions of the people who lived in the Ozarks.”
Some of the foods served at Bulrush will include millet grains, hominy, pokeweed with pork and unsweetened cornbread with sorghum butter on the side. A part of the restaurant’s experience that will set it apart from others is the opportunity to learn about the food.
“You can come in and just have a meal; but to know the history and to see the connection between a letter from 1820 talking about a certain ingredient and then how we've prepared it [and] … being aware of modern palettes and taste buds and modern plating – I think … that's fascinating,” Connoley said.
He reiterates that it’s not going to be a traditional dining setting and won’t be a full-on history lesson either, but rather an interactive experience with detailed menus and artifacts.
“We are sort of a theater in the round dining room; everyone's going to be single row around the kitchen and there are no servers,” he explained. “So you're going to be asking me questions as you eat and you're going to watch me cook and you're going to watch me handle ingredients that you might not know what they are. So that's my opportunity to educate you in a casual and friendly way.”
Listen to the full discussion:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.
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