On a Tuesday in March, Hank and Jackie Johnson, owners of Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, took over year-old restaurant Audubon’s of Ste. Genevieve. Just three days later, the rebranded Audubon’s by Chaumette opened its doors for lunch and dinner under executive chef Rob Beasley, who also leads the kitchen at Chaumette Vineyards & Winery’s Grapevine Grill.
Beasley’s Louisiana roots play heavily into the menu at Grapevine; they also appear in a few spicy touches on Audubon’s revamped menu, like the smoked chicken and andouille sausage gumbo and Cajun flatbread cooked in the restaurant’s hearth oven. Beasley estimates two-thirds of the menu is updated versions of the German-inspired fare previously on the menu at Audubon’s, including schweineschnitzel, spätzle and sausage and sauerkraut. Thanks to an abbreviated lineup of Chaumette’s award-winning wines integrated with Audubon’s existing high-quality wine collection, diners have plenty of pairing options.
How did you approach Audubon’s by Chaumette’s menu? It was here for a year and pretty well-established, so I didn’t want to turn away all of the regulars who already enjoyed certain dishes. I made small improvements to the best-sellers, like our rib eyes, for example, I changed to a center-cut strip of certified Angus beef that’s marinated in rosemary, garlic and pepper, grilled with a roasted potato and poblano hash, and served with red wine-shallot butter. I brightened up the spätzle dough with a little lemon zest and fresh herbs and added a lemon-caper butter sauce to the schweineschnitzel pork cutlets.
How did you add your personal touch to the menu? I was born and raised in Louisiana, so there are definitely some of my Cajun roots present, blended with the cuisine of the town’s German heritage. My style and presentation are very simplistic – I’ve always striven to get the very best ingredients and treat them with respect. I’m not huge on garnishes or plating with refined elegance – I’m more rustic. You can have all the flavor in the world, and the plate can still be simple. It starts with ingredients.
Where do you source ingredients? I’ve established relationships with farmers through Chaumette, and I’ve definitely carried those over to this restaurant. I’m chomping at the bit – the farmers’ market starts this month, and it’s right [down] the street from Audubon’s. It’s the perfect opportunity for me to develop relationships with local farmers. I don’t serve produce unless I can get it fresh and local, which is hard for some customers at Audubon’s to grasp. They’ll ask why they can’t have a tomato on their burger right now. I explain to them that I can get tomatoes from Mexico right now that were gas-ripened, but I’ve chosen not to. It’s an incredible difference. We can get great local tomatoes, and you will have the most beautiful fresh tomato on your burger – we just have to wait a few more months, but it’s so worth it.
How do you use wine in your cooking? Wine plays a huge part of any kitchen I’m in, whether it’s in marinades and brines or glazes and reductions. I try to use Chaumette’s wines as much as I can when I cook – when I started, they were kind of amazed at the amount of wine we went through in the kitchen. The wine menu is constantly evolving, and it’s a lot of educating the staff and the customer. At the end of the day, though, I always tell people: “Drink what you like. It might not make sense from a chef or sommelier point of view, but you should drink what you enjoy.”
Audubon’s by Chaumette, 9 N. Main St., Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, 573.883.2479, audubonstegen.info