Michael Gallina grew up in a traditionally Midwestern family in St. Louis dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player. After getting into college and realizing that, maybe, professional sports wasn't going to be a viable career for him, he headed west to San Francisco to attend the California Culinary Academy.
Gallina fell in love with California, doing an internship in Napa at Bouchon, then working in Daniel Humm's 4-star kitchen at Campton Place, and later following him to New York when he took over Eleven Madison Park in 2006.
Gallina said he always saw New York as a one-year commitment, but after dining at Blue Hill in the city and getting to know Dan Barber and his philosophy on cooking, he knew he needed to start his next chapter there. He worked at BHNY for 4 1/2 years and after leading the kitchen there for some time, was offered the opportunity to take the chef de cuisine position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in 2011.
“It was an incredible experience, being surrounded by farmland, working with some of the best talent in the country, receiving the James Beard award and World's 50 recognition,” he said. “It's also where I met my wife, Tara, so after we got married last summer we both decided it was time to start thinking about where we would start our new life together and heading back home to St. Louis felt right to the both of us. Now, we’re working to build our own restaurant together which we hope to be able to open by fall of this year.”
Symrise had the opportunity to get his thoughts on his new eatery, trends he sees in the kitchen, and those long-ago baseball dreams.
On Finding Inspiration: “I like to let what’s happening around me at that very moment dictate what I have available to cook with and let the rest of the dish evolve from there. Having a relationship with local farmers practicing organically isn't just about cherry-picking their best ingredients, but creating a dialogue where you can let them tell you what they really need you to buy.
Supporting a farm year round means that you have to sometimes take on damaged or ‘undesirable’ crops, but that's when you can really be creative. How do you take a cover crop like field radishes, or a field of cabbage attacked by pests and turn it into something delicious? If we can stop thinking of these things as waste and turn them into opportunity, it will lift up the whole system.”
On Where He Got The Cooking Bug: “I grew up in a traditionally Midwestern family in St. Louis. We were and are very close, lots of family dinners and time spent together cooking. My maternal grandfather always took me to the new, adventurous restaurants in town and tried to cook unusual recipes which sparked my curiosity. My paternal grandparents were huge into getting everyone to help out, sit down, and eat together.”
On His Cooking Style: “I really like to keep ingredients as natural as possible without too much manipulation. If it's the most delicious and flavorful carrot, why hide it or try to change it into something else?
I work a lot with charcoal and wood fire and like to let the natural elements and flavors speak for them self. Utilization of the entire plant, animal, fish etc. is also super important to my cooking style. From the tops of the vegetables to off-cuts of meat, it's a way to build flavor but also to ensure nothing is wasted.”
Favorite Ingredients: “It really depends on the season, but I particularly enjoy working with whole grains throughout the year. There are varieties of grains like rye, triticale, hard red winter wheat that are so delicious when prepared simply with water. But when they're sprouted they unlock a whole new flavor profile and are even more nutritious.
Milling these grains fresh to make bread will change the way you see and taste bread forever. I'm passionate about pushing for more farmers to grow flavorful bread wheats and bakers to work with local millers to get it.”
Favorite Kitchen Tool: “Spoons. They can do just about anything a tong or spatula can do, but more importantly it's all about taste, taste, taste. We move so fast as chefs that sometimes it's easy to forget to continually taste what we're serving, but it's crucial.”
On His New Restaurant: A lot of it goes back to where I find inspiration, and really letting the local farmers in Missouri and parts of Illinois shape our cuisine. We are very focused on flipping the idea of ‘meat and potatoes’ and taking a more vegetable-forward approach to our menu.
We celebrate meat and will not be vegetarian, but we plan to work with whole animals so that will frequently mean meat will take the form of vegetables cooked in animal fats, garnishes of braised off cuts, and charcuterie. That is definitely a departure from traditional restaurants in St. Louis, but we feel confident in the evolution of the food scene here and feel that many diners are excited for a more sustainable and delicious way of eating.
With a menu that changes as frequently as ours will, we will really be able to celebrate each ingredient to it's fullest and encourage people to keep coming back to see what's new”
“Go-To” Dish He Cooks When Home: “We love to load up our grill with whatever vegetables and meats we have on hand and prepare a pot of rice, polenta, or grains to go along with it. And my wife makes an incredible and simple kale salad, so we eat a lot of those.”
On Trends He Sees In The Kitchen: “I am excited to see a lot of chefs moving away from things like sous vide and getting back to their roots and cooking with fire. And having worked for Dan Barber for many years, I am thrilled that his influence on cooking with vegetables and truly supporting local farms is happening more and more.
If He Wasn’t A Chef, He’d Be… “A St. Louis Cardinal.”
For more information on Chef Gallina's new restaurant visit roosterandthehenfood.com