Herbie’s Executive Chef Jeramie Mitchell on the Restaurant’s New Spring Menu

For St. Louis culinary staple Herbie’s in Clayton, there’s a meticulous process at play behind the scenes when the bistro’s menu transitions from winter to spring and summer items. Seasonal produce availability opens up a great variety of menu possibilities, and it’s the perfect opportunity for the restaurant’s chef to play with creative pairings and new flavors. With a number of vegetarian and gluten-free options, the venue is a perfect choice for brunch, lunch, dinner, events and catering.

We spoke with executive chef Jeramie Mitchell about his journey through the culinary world, developing spring menu items and what guests can expect to see on the menu in the coming season.

Tell me a bit about your journey, and how you got into cooking.
I’ve cooked my whole life. I grew up on an 80-acre farm in Indiana and learned to cook beginning at about age six, standing on a step stool next to my grandmother, who was an amazing cook. I got exposed to things like plucking blackberries, morels and growing produce according to the season. I didn’t realize how much I was learning and how much that would benefit me in my later career. I still think about how lucky I was to have been exposed to all that.

Later I did a year of college but decided to go into the military instead. I wanted to see the world. It really teaches you discipline. I was 20 years old at the time and got sent to Bolivia, where we were building school houses in the Andes mountains. Getting exposed to that culture and that food was amazing. My next assignment was in Saudi Arabia for six months, and then Kuwait for six months. After that, I felt that it was really time to get out and start my life, in a way. I had actually planned on becoming an electrical engineer when my mom suggested becoming a chef. The idea really grew on me, and about three months later I enrolled at Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in South Carolina. Before my mother made that suggestion, being a chef hadn’t crossed my mind. It was the ’90s, and we didn’t have all the pop and glitz on TV you see with chefs now. But it was the best decision I ever made.

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How will the menu evolve from the winter selection to menu items for spring and summer?
For winter, a lot of slow cooking is best. We focus more on big, hearty comfort meals where you can sit back and relax. In the summer, we go for really bright, fresh, vibrant-type food, especially for the patio. People like to eat lighter in the spring and summer, especially when the temperature is in the 80s, so we have a lot more appetizers on the menu.

We will still have the standards Herbie’s is known for, like the short ribs and beef Wellington. But what I love about spring and summer is that so much becomes seasonally available—like morel mushrooms, for example, which are prized for their flavor and rarity. We’ll definitely have an expanded specials menu to reflect items like that as they come in season. Soft-shell crabs are coming into season as well, so we’ll create some playful menu items with those for about a month. Ramps are coming up too—they’re a wild onion, similar to a leek, and I’ll likely do a pasta dish with those. They come in and out of season very quickly. Wild salmon will also be coming in season—and halibut.

For our lunch menu, we’ll be offering a few new sandwiches. One will be a custom grilled chicken sandwich with gorgonzola cheese and oven-dried tomatoes on a French baguette. During the summer people are looking for light, refreshing dishes, so we also have items like a brussel sprout salad we’re revamping. For cooking, summer is so much fun.

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How do you source your ingredients?
We have really great purveyors we work with who keep us aware of what’s coming up and what’s in season. I work with a small company run by a local farmer who is very knowledgeable about specialty produce. That’s where I get my morels, for example. I was able to talk to him about what to expect, and how to know I was getting the best quality morels. You also might think it’s hard to get fresh fish in the middle of the country, but the way it’s done now we can get it from anywhere next-day. For produce, it’s been a challenge because winter lasted so long, but there are really good local farmers producing tomatoes, herbs and greens. We do try to stay away from produce that comes from out of the country—not because it isn’t a good product, but it’s not good for the environment because of the transportation required.

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What has your experience working at Herbie’s been like so far?
It’s absolutely a dream job. It was the right place and the right time. I feel like I’ve really found my home, and I’m so happy every day. That’s not a line for a magazine; it’s exactly what I feel. I’m able to create what I want, and I can draw from owner Aaron Teitelbaum’s experience, who is a chef as well. We could talk for hours and it feels like 10 minutes. It’s amazing.

I’ve been here for 6 months now, and it’s been so great. As a chef, when I was younger, it was all about me. I had a lot of ego—a lot of young chefs are like that. But I’m older now, and for me, it’s all about our customers and what they like. I’m really excited about what we’re doing.

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Images courtesy of Herbie’s. Image photo courtesy of Elizabeth Wiseman.

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