It probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise that Patrick Seibold is working at Vicia, one of the top kitchens in St. Louis and now a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. Seibold grew up in what he describes as a "very food-centric family": His father’s family owned a multi-location bakery that operated for 85 years in southern Illinois, and his mother was a high school culinary arts teacher.
Seibold didn't take a straight path into the culinary world, though; he graduated college with a business degree in advertising before quickly realizing that his true passion was cooking. He then attended culinary school in New York and went on to work at top-level kitchens including Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, California; Gramercy Tavern in New York City; and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.
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Always in the back of his mind, however, was the idea of moving back to St. Louis and applying all the techniques and philosophies he'd learned over the years to the local culinary scene. When Michael and Tara Gallina announced they'd be opening the vegetable-forward Vicia in St. Louis, he knew he'd found his chance. Now sous chef at the lauded Central West End restaurant, Seibold sat down with us to chat about drying Hachiya persimmons in his apartment, the intersection of food and tech and why diners should always ask more questions.
What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Ooh, that’s a tough one. I don’t know that I have a favorite ingredient, but I tend to have temporary obsessions with things – it could be a spice I’m reading about or a fermentation technique. Right now, it's Hachiya persimmons – hang-drying them and turning them into hoshigaki. I have these little persimmons kind of strung around my apartment and they look like Christmas lights, and I have to massage them every once in a while. [Laughs.] So that’s kind of my thing right now.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Another tough one. Honestly, I think it's just the learned techniques from the chefs I’ve worked under.
What's your perfect day of eating in St. Louis? I would start off by grabbing a late breakfast at Southwest Diner, followed by going to Gezellig in The Grove and tasting a few beers. We tend to always go to Dressel’s [Public House] in the Central West End and get the fish and chips; it’s awesome. I tend to mosey on down to Jeni’s [Splendid Ice Creams] after, so it’s kind of an excuse for me to go there. And then I think I would end the night at Side Project in Maplewood.
How has the local food scene evolved over the past year? Having been gone for 10 years and then coming back – it’s like the barbecue scene; it just can’t stop, won’t stop, here. There’s always new barbecue popping up. I appreciate the diversity in our food choices now. Places like Balkan Treat Box, Kounter Kulture and Público – restaurants focusing on local, seasonal sourcing tend to be the norm now, which is really nice to see.
Who are St. Louis chefs you admire at the moment? I would say Loryn Nalic and her husband, Edo; they’re so genuine and hospitable and they’re the ones behind Balkan Treat Box. It just seems like they’re doing it for the right reasons. They just want to make delicious food and serve it to the masses and make them happy. Also, Mike Johnson of Sugarfire [Smoke House] and Hi-Pointe [Drive-In], from a business perspective – I really admire how he’s been able to scale his business. And then there’s Christine Meyer and Mike Miller from Kounter Kulture. They just have such a presence at the farmers’ market, and they’re using incredible ingredients.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in St. Louis? To be honest, the changes I would like to see are just for diners to ask more questions about where their food is coming from. As the population cares more and more, I think that will push restaurants more and more to use local farmers who are participating in sustainable farming methods.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? Sometimes nothing. I would say comfort food. I really like doing braises like beef stroganoff, beef Bourguignon or beef Bolognese – something that I don’t really have to rush myself with. I can just turn on music and listen to some Frank Zappa and just zone out and just do my thing and relax.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Most people would probably be like, "Oh, Patrick, pizza is obviously your thing." I love cooking those longtime braises, but then as far as comforting food I would have to say pizza. Union Loafers is my favorite place to get pizza in St. Louis, absolutely.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Learn how to use salt and acid together. Find a high-quality sea salt; we use La Baleine at the restaurant. Just understanding how to use that with acid – I think that would completely change people’s food that they cook at home.
What's your first food memory? I grew up around food, but I think the predominant memories that I have are being very young, and on the holidays being off school and having to go to my father’s family’s bakery and just helping out with whatever I could – be it shaping croissants or making Danishes and screwing them up, because I was young and had no technical ability. That’s what I remember.
What’s the most intriguing dish you’ve made recently, and why? I did a play on a squash bean cake [last fall], and it’s simply roasted squash that has kind of the mouthfeel of cheesecake, and then there are all these squash seeds and whatnot on top for texture. The colors, the flavors and the textures are just fall to me. The dish just speaks fall.
What inspires your cooking? How do you approach R&D at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? Farmers, for the most part, dictate how I cook. Things kind of show up, we have conversations and we go from there. I’m constantly reading about different techniques and different restaurants to kind of inspire me.
What are your future plans? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, so bear with me if it becomes very verbose. I love the idea of having my own restaurant one day; that’s kind of the goal. But currently as a chef you can’t really ignore the larger problems that currently exist in America’s food system. So I think we need to look more at how we’re growing food, distributing it, cooking it and educating people about it. Vast reform needs to happen with the food landscape, not only in terms of health but also in terms of developing a food culture and identity, and I think it requires that we approach the problem from a different angle. You can only do so much as a restaurant. I think the future of food is going to be dictated by data and technology, and I’d love to get involved with bringing healthy and delicious food to the masses in a scalable way. I read a lot about food and tech, and there’s all this data that we can now gather and interpret, and I’d love to see eating patterns and draw patterns with what we’re doing across the country and in small communities, and applying that to a restaurant or a scalable fast-casual restaurant and really honing in on it.
Vicia, 4260 Forest Park Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.553.9239, viciarestaurant.com