Rising Star: John Messbarger

Before opening Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. in Benton Park in 2014, chef-owner Kevin Nashan had a pretty good idea of the menu – lobster rolls, po’boys and lots of seafood. But when it came to fleshing out details on some of the staples, he turned to chef de cuisine John Messbarger. The L’École Culinaire-St. Louis grad has a serious culinary resume – he worked at a handful of local fine-dining establishments including Truffles, Elaia and Little Country Gentleman, as well as The Good Pie (now Randolfi’s), before joining Peacemaker. In the months and weeks leading up to the restaurant opening, Messbarger fine-tuned a few dishes, including creating the horseradish mayo for the smoked brisket po’boy and the Cajun sausage for the pork link po’boy.

Nashan says the restaurant didn’t originally even have a chef de cuisine position, but Messbarger stepped up and took on the role. “He really runs the kitchen,” Nashan says. “John is just one of those guys who is always determined to make things better, and he’s tireless in his work ethic – he’s just a great guy.”

As second-in-command at the seafood joint, Messbarger spends his days chauffeuring freshly flown-in seafood back to the restaurant, working various stations in the kitchen including the fryer and raw bar, and breaking up the day with projects like making gumbo or seasoning lobster meat for rolls. Peacemaker’s core menu largely stays the same – and for good reason – but diners can get a glimpse of Messbarger’s creativity in specials like turnip kimchi, lobster chili dogs or gnocchi with fresh bay scallops. A few of his one-offs have even earned permanent placement on the menu, including the smoked whitefish salad and Buffalo crawfish po’boy – a tribute to his dad’s love of hot wings. (Photo by Jonathan Gayman)

Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., peacemakerstl.com

RUNNER UP: Jesse Mendica, Olive + Oak, oliveandoakstl.com