When Gerard Craft opened his newest restaurant, Brasserie by Niche in the Central West End, he tapped Perry Hendrix as his executive chef. While new to St. Louis, Hendrix has quickly made a name for himself serving traditional, simple French cuisine with an updated twist. Hendrix’s dishes are unpretentious and honest, much like the style and attitude of Brasserie itself. He believes while diners might not be wowed by the visual appearance of the plate, the taste of the meals he prepares will definitely impress, as will his fine dining caliber dishes with a casual dining price.
You’re not from St. Louis. How did you end up here?
I have a degree in botany from Miami University, I’ve worked various food jobs from line cook to morning baker. I became very interested in wine and wine production at the end of college. Food and wine go hand in hand, so I decided to pursue that. Gerard Craft (owner and operator of Niche, Taste by Niche, and Brasserie by Niche) and I actually go back a number of years. He worked for me as a cook in Salt Lake City, Utah before opening Niche. The past summer I was up here helping Gerard open Taste, and about six months ago, I moved up here when he opened Brasserie and took over as executive chef.
What makes Brasserie special?
For me, the big appeal was the neighborhood. I wanted to be part of something that is vibrant and where people feel comfortable coming in. We try to do basic techniques right. We present a very simple plate of really well-prepared food. It’s good ingredients, simply prepared with solid technique, based in the fine dining realm of food, but still a casual and relaxed restaurant. I mean, we put paper on our table tops, but serve amazing dishes.
How would you describe the style of cooking here?
Simple French comfort food, that’s quick, timeless and delicious
What is your favorite meal to prepare?
At Brasserie, roasted chicken. We have great locally-raised birds. We also get in whole animals, locally-raised as well. We can get a pig and turn it into six different dishes, and I really enjoy the utilization of the entire animal. A lot of people look at the high end style of French cooking and think that’s the only type of French food. But real, traditional French food would use the whole animal. We get local protein, chickens, pork, rabbit, trout, and now that we’re in the season, we’ll use asparagus, strawberries, and other produce.
What is the best part of your job?
Walking in on any given night of the week and seeing a full dining room and seeing faces I recognize and return customers. That is great. I want to cook food, but more importantly I want people to love the food I cook.
How do you come up with new dishes?
This food is based in tradition; brasseries have been around for a hundred years in France. So I’ll look at a very traditional dish, and we’ll update it or recreate it, make it lighter, or instead of using out-of-season vegetables, we’ll prepare it with in-season vegetables. Anyone who claims to have an epiphany in the kitchen is a liar. It’s all based on tradition and history. You can put your own spin on something, or recreate something, but all meals are really based in tradition. We reprint our menu every day, and it is always changing and evolving based on what we can get, what’s available fresh and local. I think that the change keeps this restaurant fun. We can keep everything interesting and new.
What separates the St. Louis restaurant industry apart?
There is some great ethnic food, and people are looking more at their region and figuring out how to use what’s available to them as opposed to flying in ingredients from all over the world. There are a lot of great chef-farmer relationships here in St. Louis.
What is it you hope your customers take with them when they leave Brasserie?
I hope they leave satisfied, comfortable. The customer might not be wowed by the presentation, because that’s not what we do. We serve really simple food. I hope people leave soulfully satisfied by a great meal.
What is the best tip you can give a cook hoping to improve their abilities in the kitchen?
Seasoning! Don’t be afraid of salt. The difference between an OK meal and a great meal is seasoning, and make sure you taste as you go.
Check out what it's like inside the kitchen at Brasserie by Niche.