Matt Wynn has been one of my favorite food industry people to hang out with since we first met at niche’s 10 year anniversary dinner. he’s well spoken, introspective, lacks ego, and loves the st. louis blues (too much). I was his dishwasher for a pop-up once and he was a great mentor. My plates have been extra clean ever since. He’s recently become the executive chef of taste bar. Matt, over to you:
I started at Niche in January 2016. When we closed, I went over to work at Brasserie. Brian Moxey had just taken over as head chef, which was great because I knew him from Hearth—my first day there was during his last week.
Someone casually mentioned that Moxey was from Missouri too. Hearth was the most intense kitchen I’ve ever worked in, so there wasn’t a lot of chitchat. It was was like we were both in a bunker, so it was more like, “you’re also from Missouri? Cool. Let’s cook.”
I was at Brasserie until Sardella opened. I was there for about 9 months, and then I left to work under Josh Poletti at Basso.
When Poletti left, I left too. I went on a 3 week trip. I drove straight from Springfield to Albuquerque, then to the Grand Canyon, then to Vegas. I stayed there a few days in my old sous chef’s apartment. I spent a whole day playing with his two dogs—a fat pug and a Dogue de Bordeaux who didn’t want anything to do with me—drank bourbon, ate tacos, and watched every game of college football. It was fantastic.
The day before my birthday, I went to Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco and had an amazing meal, and I had an epiphany: Do I want to do Italian food again right now? It’s what I’d been doing my whole career and I realized I was looking for something different.
When I got back, I started working at Mac’s Local Eats. It was eye opening. When I was first there, it was super laid back. We’d make good amount of hamburgers a night, but nothing crazy. Then all of a sudden it snowballed and it was like what is going on? We had one Saturday that was so insane, we just looked at each other and wondered what the hell was happening. We were getting crushed so hard all day.
We started doing all these specials, like seasonal salads and veggie dishes, but we realized that the burger really is the star of the show. Anything else is just a supporting act. Burger, rip fries, and boudin balls. Learning that less is more, keeping things simple was a really good lesson for me.
From there, I was sous chef at Good Fortune, which was my first real management role. Ryan McDonald gave me a lot of freedom. On my days off, I’d text him and say I kinda want to do this, and he’d say, “What are you waiting for? Do it.”
I’m trying to instill that in my sous chefs now. Now that I’m the executive chef at Taste, meaning I can’t just be on the line or prepping during the day. Patrick has been chomping at the bit to find and use his creativity, and I’m happy to let him do that. That’s where I want to be. I never want any restaurant I’m at to be the Matt Wynn show. I want all my cooks to have dishes on the menu.
Hailey is my youngest cook and she had this idea for a wonton taco she’d done before. She went to the store, made it, we all tried it, then we talked it out. We changed the fish up, we changed the sauce. We changed pico to a charred tomatillo relish.
The point I was trying to get across to her was: you made this dish a year ago—do you think you’re still the same cook now? No. Take your idea and let’s elevate it. It’s our 4th most popular dish now. It’s a playful, tasty bite of food.
Citrus cured salmon, charred tomatillo relish
We actually have an amaro we sell here in the relish. I really want to start incorporating more spirits into our food. We should be a cocktail bar using all our resources. I’ve been pickling fennel in Campari, which came from Moxey, I think.
Taste has had a few chefs over the last few years, and I think Gerard and Michael Petres were noticing that the menu was going in all different directions, so we needed to create some stability here. We’re aiming for some mix of Italian/French/American elevated bar fare. It helps me focus. To paraphrase, Gerard told me to stick with what I did at my tasting—Italian and French—and not overcomplicate things.
Taste is a double edged sword—we can color outside the lines. We have no rules. But having the freedom to do whatever we want became a headache. The dishes I’m thinking of now fit into that less-is-more category. I want to put my own spin on simple bar food that people are familiar with and use that as our base. Reeds American Table and Juniper are both good examples of this. I don’t want one big entree any more—I want 4 plates of food with foods flying across the table.
One of the things I love about Reeds is that I felt like I was eating food I’d make for myself, but not having to actually cook it. Plus, they have tons of fun twists. It was one of my first meals back in St. Louis, and I was blown away.
I’m a very seasonal cook. Hearth taught me that. The meats aren’t the star of the show—whatever vegetable is in season is, and meat would be paired with that. I’m very ready for spring. I’ve literally got a list of veggies I’m excited to use. English peas, fava beans, spring garlic, spring onions...they’re all going to have a home on this menu. I’m about to change the brick chicken in a way that pays homage to an old Taste dish. Luscious chicken, awesome pan sauce, pickled mustard seeds, spaetzle, seasonal veg. The new carrot dish—Double Star Farms carrots (white and orange bolero) cooked in water and bacon fat, tossed in smoked blue cheese, pickled shallots, breadcrumbs, sherry, red chili flakes, bacon, and topped with chives and oat granola—is based off a dish we did at Terroir, but with a wink to Taste’s old bacon fat cornbread.
Eggplant is my favorite vegetable. It’s so versatile, you can do so much with it—I’m going to try to pull off an eggplant parm this summer.
Cheese curds are back, baby. The harissa aioli is something I’m really happy with. They’re Marcoot—we had to get the best, no shortcuts. I got them, fried some off, and was like, hell yeah. Let’s fucking sling curds again!
I got burnt out on the idea fried cheese. But these are killer. I get it now.
Marcoot curds, harissa aioli
cooked in water & bacon fat, tossed with smoked blue cheese, pickled shallots, breadcrumbs, sherry, chili flakes, bacon, topped with chives & oat granola
red, golden & chioggia beets, Union Loafers’ German rye, whipped ricotta, toasted pistachios
brown butter bourbon biscuits
banana jam, smoked chili honey, sage
hen of the woods mushroom, fontina cheese,
pickled watermelon radish, thyme oil