Matthew Abeshouse may be able to claim that he “wasn’t much of an eater” as a child, but that didn’t stop his love of food. That adoration has led him to careers in the restaurant industry for the past 17 years. After a year as sous chef at Soulard’s French bistro, Franco, he’d proven his mettle in the kitchen to such a degree that he was given his first executive chef gig. “Even a year and a half into it, it’s still a learning experience,” Abeshouse says of the job. “But, it’s fun. It’s been a good time; I’m a little tired, but it happens!” Here, Abeshouse talks to us about Franco and treats us to his signature dish.
You reworked the menu when you became executive chef. What’s your approach to creating new dishes?
Since we’re across the street from the farmer’s market, a huge input is what my farmers have that’s fresh. I don’t do four menus a year; I have a constantly rotating menu. I’ll change a couple of things once a week, and sometimes change two or three things the next week. It’s just [dependent on] what’s fresh and what’s local.
Since you change menu items so often, how do you come up with individual dishes so fast?
I definitely have a plan for what I think is coming into season. I like to keep the technique in the French style, but I also like to have fun with things. One of [our] popular dishes is frog legs. It’s a French ingredient, but I do it with bacon-strewn collard greens, grits and a red wine gravy. So I took a French ingredient and made it Southern American. I just like to have a quiet twist on things and make it a little different than what you’d normally see.
How would you describe the food at Franco?
Hearty, good... everything’s fresh, absolutely everything is homemade. I try to make some of the unapproachable products like foie gras and frog legs as approachable as possible.
What’s good about Franco?
We have a fantastic staff, front of the house and back of the house. Most of the front of the house [staff] has been here since day one, which you don’t hear about at a lot of restaurants. And that shows in the food and the service. We’re a family, we all get along. We get along with our customers. We have a lot of regulars. It’s a fun place to work, a fun place to be and a fun place to eat.
If you could shadow any chef, who would it be and why?
I’d love to spend a day in The French Laundry with Thomas Keller. He is the epitome of the American French chef. He’s a big one.
You’re from Maryland and have also worked in Florida and California. What do you think of the restaurant industry in St. Louis?
It’s growing and growing. In the six years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of good things happening in the restaurant world. A lot of very good restaurants are cropping up. I just want it to continue. And I like the fact that a lot of people are staying local and using local farmers; a lot of people are definitely doing that in St. Louis.
See what it's like inside the kitchen at Franco.