Opening in January, St. Louis’s Vicia is a highly-anticipated St. Louis restaurant project from Blue Hill at Stone Barns alums Michael and Tara Gallina. Manning the kitchen, Michael works from a vegetable-forward ethos, just as he did at Stone Barns, building relationships with local farmers and growers. We spoke to Gallina about his move from New York, the dining community of St. Louis, and what diners can expect.
When running a kitchen so closely tied to local farms, seasonality is so important. How does St. Louis compare to New York in this regard? We came back to St. Louis with the plans of taking our time to build relationships with the local farming and artisan community before we opened our restaurant. Over the last year we have been really excited to discover a number of small farms that are practicing organic and focusing on soil health. A lot of these farms are growing some very good produce and experimenting with some of the same crops I had access to back at Stone Barns. We may not have a market on the scale of Union Square that caters to chefs, but the small markets here are definitely growing and we see a lot of new opportunities to help push that here with good feedback from the market vendors.
How have your pop-ups helped shape your restaurant concept? They have been invaluable! Really, I would tell anyone that’s interested in opening a new restaurant, in a new market, to invest the time and money into pop up dinners. We did 20, which was a lot, but each one of them helped us to gain insight into what the community was seeking, if they were excited about what we have to offer, and expand our customer base through word of mouth before we even open the doors. Our overall concept definitely shifted from the first day we moved to St. Louis, and will hopefully allow us to be successful with a restaurant that meets both our creative needs, and that of our community.
The wood-fire grill will be a fixture at your restaurant — how are you planning to use it? Our kitchen is not very big, so more than just a way to incorporate various cooking techniques into our cuisine, it’s a matter of practicality. Our wood grill will be pretty large and a visual focal point in our outdoor dining space. We will use it to do a lot of prep for components that will be on the dinner menu, and it will also be functional enough for us to pick up dishes for the 14-top party table that sits right in front of it.
Tell us about a dish you make that really exemplifies your cooking style. My cooking really changes a lot, and I hesitate to say I have a signature dish because I am always letting the farm dictate what I cook. But to exemplify “vegetable-forward” cuisine, one of my favorite dishes to make is a cabbage that has been coated in pork fat and buried in the coals to completely char on the outside. I cut it like a steak, melt charcuterie on top of it, and serve it with a really bright and acidic sauerkraut cream. When the green cabbages are in season and super sweet this is a dish that really lets the vegetable be the star.