Butler’s Pantry executive chef Gregory P. Ziegenfuss brought home more than souvenirs when he took his wife, children and in-laws to Europe recently. Their travels to Amsterdam, Paris and Germany and restaurant stops in each region left him with all sorts of new ideas and inspirations for specialties at Butler’s as well as Bixby’s in the Missouri History Museum, Café Madeleine, The Donald Danforth Center, Piper Palm House and Palladium Saint Louis.
“Eating is a big part of travel, so I am always thinking of how I can re-create or translate something I try into a dish we could sell at one of the restaurants,” says Ziegenfuss, who’s spent more than 30 years in the catering industry and has served as the chef/food expert behind several fine-dining restaurants in the St. Louis area. “It is always a learning experience.”
Ziegenfuss currently specializes in creative food design and presentation, which is why he is always on the lookout for new ideas for the kitchens he works in.
In Amsterdam, Ziegenfuss and his family discovered a place called Greenwood’s along the Singel Canal that focused on local, organic and vegetarian dishes. “That’s similar to what we do at Bixby’s in the Missouri History Museum,” he says, so it was easy to fashion the vegetarian sandwich he ate there for Bixby’s menu.
Soon to be called The Greenwood, in honor of Greenwood's, the sandwich consists of a portobello mushroom topped with ratatouille, goat cheese, honey, balsamic vinegar and pine nuts on soda bread. The Greenwood will be served with an arugula salad.
Ziegenfuss says the mushroom is grilled with oil and balsamic vinegar. The ratatouille is roasted and made up of eggplant, squash, tomatoes, garlic and onions. The pine nuts are toasted. All of the ingredients are placed atop a dense, sweet soda bread. “You have the sweet and sour taste, and you have the meatiness from the mushroom. It’s completely vegetarian and the ingredients can be sourced locally,” Ziegenfuss says. “It’s just a great combination of flavors.”
A dish at Café Victor Hugo, a bistro located in Paris’ Marais Neighborhood, also sparked inspiration. In the French dish, a piece of foie gras is pan-seared and served atop a helping of mashed potatoes. Ziegenfuss, however, has made the entrée into an hors d'oeuvre. Yukon Gold potatoes are put through a potato ricer or food mill to make them extra fluffy and light. Then, Ziegenfuss adds “plenty of butter, cream, salt and pepper.” He forms the mashed potatoes into a disk which he coats with Panko bread crumbs and deep fries. He rests the foie gras on top of the disk, and voila, “It’s an encrusted mashed potato and foie gras hors d’oeuvre that you can pick up,” he says.
Ziegenfuss says culturally diverse cuisine has become commonplace in many parts of the world, something he did not experience 30 years ago when he was in the U.S. Army in Western Europe or Northern Africa, or when he was backpacking through Germany on $10 per day.
“It’s interesting that in Germany back then, a German restaurant was a German restaurant. It was meat-and-potatoes-oriented. It’s still a German restaurant today, but there will be more ethnic influences,” he says. For instance, he adds, an Italian, Greek or Croatian family may own a German restaurant and those cultural and ethnic influences will come out in the food. “I didn’t see that 30 years ago. It’s like in America where you have a melting pot of influence of different cultures on our food.”
Butler's Pantry, 1414 Park Ave., 314. 664.7680, butlerspantry.com