Anthony Devoti, chef-owner of Five Bistro, grew up watching his father work as a short-order cook in his grandparents’ restaurant. Devoti later graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and his culinary résumé includes the now-shuttered ZuZu's Petals, The Chase Park Plaza and San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe. Devoti relocated back to St. Louis and opened Five Bistro on The Hill in 2006. The farm-to-table restaurant offers a daily changing dinner menu from Tuesday through Saturday, featuring seasonal ingredients grown by farmers in the region. On Saturdays, Five also features lunch and a small grocery store that sells pickled goods, housemade bread and more. We sat down with Devoti to talk about his favorite spots in St. Louis and how the local food scene is progressing.
What's your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Right now, since we have tomatoes, I love doing stuff with tomatoes. When we have asparagus, I love using asparagus. I’m also doing lots of bread things. It’s a very seasonal thing.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? No. Nothing that I would say. We’re the salt-and-pepper kinda deal here.
What’s your perfect day of eating in St. Louis? I’ve kind of been on a Southwest Diner kick for the Christmas-style burrito for breakfast. I like going there, or I like dim sum at Lu Lu Seafood & Dim Sum or Wei Hong Seafood Restaurant. The chicken feet are awesome. I love all the weird stuff – tripe, chicken feet. If you ask them about it, they’ll bring you more of the cool stuff that they usually pass you over for. It’s always the best since we’re closed on Sundays. Lunch at Union Loafers for any of its sandwiches. The roasted pork sandwich is always a go-to. I’d go to Olive + Oak for dinner. Then, Ices Plain & Fancy for dessert that I usually split with my daughter.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? It’s really progressing. I think Vicia is a really good example. It’s really an East or West Coast-style restaurant that you’d get in New York or San Francisco. That’s really awesome. You don’t have a lot of places around here like that. Gerard Craft won his James Beard Award and that’s really opened doors for people, too. It’s very progressive and moving forward, [though] we still have old staple joints. It’s still a pizza-pasta-steakhouse kind of town, but you can now find places that you wouldn’t have seen five years ago.
Who are St. Louis chefs you admire at the moment? I haven’t eaten his food, but Michael Gallina for sure. Jesse Mendica at Olive + Oak is really awesome and doing cool stuff, too. I haven’t eaten at The Libertine yet, but Samantha Mitchell is just a cool, good cook and does really good, proper stuff. They’re all easy to cheer for because they’re nice, awesome and freaking good cooks too!
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in St. Louis? I would like to see people continue the farm-to-table and vegetable-friendly food. I think people are getting away from the heavy meats we always used to do, and I want to see that keep progressing.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? I feel like we cook all kinds of stuff. I don’t know – I make mostly eggs at home. [Laughs] I also like to barbecue and fire up the grill whether it’s a vegetable or a meat thing. I made ribs today, so I’m pretty excited about those.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Fried chicken. It’s a classic comfort food. I just remember my grandma making me fried chicken when I was a kid. Everyone in my family is a pretty good cook, but her fried chicken was always something we looked forward to.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Don’t overthink it. You should cook things that you like, and you should keep it simple. Too often people overthink things and stress themselves out. Just do it. Also, make sure it’s what you like. That’s important.
What is your first food memory? Christmas dinner. We always did the baked ravioli and roasted beef. That was always a huge influence growing up. My grandpa made the sauce, and we all built the ravioli together. We still do it – it’s still a thing we do today. Also, sitting around and watching Jacques [Pepin] and Julia [Child] at 9 o’clock on Channel Nine on Sundays while eating breakfast.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? We’ve never really had a vegetable entrée on the menu, [but] we’re playing with different vegetable dishes like half a roasted head of cauliflower or potato purée. It’s not a dish in particular; it’s focusing on having a dish that’s a composed vegetable dish.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? Whatever our farmers have is what we use. That’s it. There’s no bringing anything else in. They call us and tell us what they have and we order it. It’s fantastic. We also have two gardens. We have a list of all we have and sit down talk about last night’s service and evaluate and fix it. We do stuff for two weeks and then we’re like, “Gah, let’s change this!” We’re lucky that we get to do whatever we want with good clientele and good staff.
What are your future plans? We’re really focused on what we’re doing. We also have the grocery shop. I love doing it – jarring, canning and pickling things and baking bread. That stuff right now is kinda where it’s at. We have a big development going on up the street with an old building, so that is exciting for us in the future; it’s potentially more clients!
Five Bistro, 5100 Daggett Ave., The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.773.5553, fivebistro.com