Chris Bailey's Thieves in the Night
If I were a man of wealth and fame, I would bestow the honor of being my personal chef onto Chris Bailey. You may recall when he came to St. Louis in late 2014 as the harbinger of Dinner Lab. His modern interpretations of East Asian cuisine resonated with me deeply - I remember thinking to myself that this is the kind of food I want to eat everyday. The flavors were bold, the plating was elegant, and the creativity kept things interesting throughout the meal. What stood out the most to me was this sense that through the food, I was gaining an understanding of Chris' personality. There was a clear, singular vision to the meal that left me wanting more. Chris and I kept in touch after his Dinner Lab and when he asked me about returning to St. Louis a few months ago, I pointed him in the direction of Hammer & Hand's Silk Rodeo series. Conversations were had, decisions were made, and Chris Bailey made his grand return to St. Louis to present his "Thieves In The Night" dinner.
Not to put St. Louis down, but I was surprised that Chris wanted to come back here. The guy splits his time between Hawaii and Portland, Oregon. Why come back to St. Louis?
I spent so little time in the Midwest in general—I grew up in Hawaii and lived in Portland, Oregon—that it was refreshing to be in a city like St. Louis. And I’ve had really great conversations with industry folks here. It’s great to see that shared passion to keep pushing food and drink into the national conversation. There were so many places I had yet to experience that I knew I wanted to come back to St Louis at least once before I returned to Hawaii to focus on the next phase of my career.
I asked Chris what the best thing he'd eaten in St. Louis had been, even though I knew the answer.
Fork and Stix’s khao soi. Hands down. I have yet to try Imo’s pizza; I feel like I’m missing out on a cultural experience.
Rather than do the usual style of write up, I've asked Chris to breakdown the inspiration for each of his courses. Chris obliged, partially because he's a nice guy, and partially because I told him if he didn't, I'd tell everyone he was a garbage chef serving up garbage food. I'm like the Tony Soprano of food bloggers.
First Course: Wakame cured snapper | miso/strawberries | shaved bottarga
Every gathering we hosted in Hawaii had a sashimi tray. No questions asked. It was the centerpiece to the table, the first thing you’d notice walking in. I wanted to start this meal in similar fashion, offering something simple that said: “Welcome. Now get ready to eat.”
Second Course: Chilled broccolini | smoked yogurt | ikura | licorice root ponzu | everything bagel seasoning
Pairing vegetables with unexpected flavors is something I’ve long been fond of. Broccolini was a fun canvas to work with. I steeped ponzu with licorice root to extract those great anise-y flavors. The broccolini was then topped with dollops of smoked yogurt with cardamom, and a mix of seeds, onion and garlic flake for crunch. Then salmon roe to finish; I absolutely love that oceanic burst. It’s the kind of dish you need to swirl together until it’s an ugly mess for maximum effect.
Third Course: Shrimp fat curry | puff | whipped coconut milk
I love including a curry course in my menus. My mother often ate her curries with petai (stinky) beans, whole prawns and a fat piece of frybread she’d pick up from Honolulu’s Chinatown that morning.
This version was as much homage to that dish as it was a nod to the Dinner Lab I did in St. Louis last September, which featured a milder version of this dish. Here I fried the curry paste with oil infused with shrimp shells. The shrimp meat was poached in clarified butter then tossed into the curry with fresh beans. There was a hunk of fried puff pastry to sop up all the sauce.
Fourth Course: Pork jowl | chicken fat rice | jaew sauce | cilantro/peanut
I wanted a dish that was unabashedly meat: rich, unctuous and rustic. For the September Dinner Lab we served a whole trout stuffed with pork sausage dressed with Golden Mountain sauce. Similar line of thinking here: pork jowls were marinated in fermented black bean and onion paste and cooked sous vide for 24 hours. We seared off slabs of it and served it with tamarind-heavy sauce, a cilantro and peanut relish and shared bowl of chicken fat rice. Definitely not light fare.
Dessert: Khanom mor gang | bird chile ice cream | white peach
I’ve been on a parfait kick lately. I’ve seen them around Tokyo and Hawaii. There’s a great place in Seattle called Trove that has a walk-up counter serving them. There’s something satisfying about digging through the different strata, getting different flavors and textures with every spoonful.
The base of the dish is coconut custard thickened with mung bean. Atop that was an anise sable crumble followed by macerated white peach. It’s finished with a pandan and Thai chile ice cream for a lingering heat. It’s basically Thailand in a cup.
Editor's Note: This is the 2nd best dessert I had this year. Or maybe the 1st. Time will tell.
While there were elements I liked more than others (the pork jowl was far too fatty for me), the meal reaffirmed my belief that Chris is a master of curries and desserts. His curries manage to have this extra umph - this deep flavor you can't place. The desserts he's made sound simple - an ice cream sandwich and a parfait - but he's balancing a lot of unique flavors at once. Mung bean, bird's eye chiles, and white peaches? Black sesame, coconut kaya jam, candied cilantro? That's some Chopped level shit. Let's hope he makes his way back to St. Louis again.