Can you imagine living directly upstairs from your job and working each day with your parents? For some people that might be a nightmare, but Anthony Devoti, owner and head chef of Five Bistro on The Hill, wouldn’t have it any other way. “I walk downstairs and I’m at work, you can’t beat that commute. And I work with family. It’s a pretty good deal.” Devoti has created a relaxed, yet upscale spot in Five Bistro, where his hope is his customers feel at home. And while you probably won’t see him schmoozing the customers in the dining room, anyone is welcome back in his kitchen to say hi or give an opinion on their meal. Here, Devoti tells us about his restaurant, his style of cooking and how he has managed to successfully own and operate Five Bistro.
What got you into the restaurant industry?
My grandparents owned a diner and food was always a big part of our family life. As a kid, we always ate dinner as a family. Both of my parents, and all my grandparents, are great cooks. I was working at a restaurant since I was 16, bussing tables, stuff like that. When everyone was leaving for college, I was done with school. So when everyone went to college, I stayed and worked in restaurants. I went to Europe for awhile, came home and it was either go to school or go to work, so I enrolled at Forest Park Community College in the culinary program. I left St. Louis and went to New York City for the French Culinary Institute. I worked in St. Louis for a little while, then went to San Francisco for about five years, then came back to St. Louis and opened Five Bistro.
What is Five Bistro?
Five is new American Bistro, regional American food. We get as much local product as possible. We do a lot of boutique cheeses, which are mostly European. We have a big focus on wine, and we have very fair pricing so you can enjoy a beautiful meal, with local ingredients and a great glass of wine at a very good price.
You described Five as new American Bistro. What is new American Bistro?
New American Bistro is, in my opinion, big portions, hearty meat and potatoes, rustic cooking, with a European influence. It’s actually really “Grandma” influenced in that our flavors are very basic. We buy beautiful product, use good technique and try to make an intricate and delicious dish that your grandma would make. It’s basic stuff, just done right. We make everything in house, our pastas, sausage, headcheese, breads and pastries, anything that you see on the menu, we pretty much made back in our kitchen.
How did you come up with the name?
When you eat, you use your five senses. In the very basis of things, you see, taste, smell, and feel. The hard one is hearing, but I think that can be good conversation with family and friends. Every time you eat, you use your five senses. So Five came naturally.
What is the atmosphere like in the kitchen?
I work the line every night. It’s a small kitchen, so we’ve gotten pretty tight. My parents are here every day. My family is really close, so just like anybody that works with their parents, talks to their parents, deals with their parents. They drive me totally crazy with their parent stuff, just like I drive them totally crazy with my kid stuff. But we get along great. My parents both have a corporate background, so it’s been a little bit of a shock to them moving to the restaurant industry, and my mom has realized that restaurant people are a complete different breed of people. There are only ten employees here, so we know each other really well. It’s great to work with family, and having such a small staff… everyone is totally close.
So your menu changes daily. How are you able to rec-reate your menu each day?
Each day the items change, but we aren’t re-writing the menu every day. Once a week, I re-write a completely different menu. Without undermining what we’re doing, because we do shitloads of work, our menu stays pretty basic. We break down whole animals here, and that takes a lot of time. We know all our farmers, and we list them on the menu to show them the respect they deserve. If you think about this last month of crappy weather, the farmers are working hard to load us up with awesome stuff. I try to write the menu to reflect what’s exciting. It’s more about combining flavors properly than it is about transforming the culinary world. It’s about making an awesome, delicious meal that is grown or raised in this area. That’s what is important to me and that is what I try to reflect in the menu.
Why is important to you to use local ingredients?
It’s the quality. We only use quality ingredients. We only use things that are seasonal and try to use predominately local product. For example, we only use diver scallops, we only use wild fish, things that are sustainable, can be harvested or caught properly. I don’t want any fish raised in big pens. Not to get too hippie about it, but there’s a symbiotic relationship. We need to treat things properly. To me, being a chef is about utilizing local ingredients. We grow beautiful produce in this area. When we are creative, we can change our menu up, and in my opinion, if you don’t do that, you’re not being a proper chef. Opening a can, dumping it in a pan and calling yourself a chef is not how it works.
The Hill is known as a great food neighborhood. Why did you choose this area to open Five?
I love this area. It’s quiet, people can walk around on the street, hit up the boutiques, there’s a sense of community. This is the best move, best business decision we could have made, without a doubt. This is a restaurant and we’re in a restaurant neighborhood.
What are you most proud of?
That I get to do what I want and people accept it and appreciate what I do. It’s fun to work with family. The building is something to be proud of. It’s always a work in progress. Our patio is a little chipped up, but we really have a great place here.
What makes Five Bistro special?
Each month, we do two wine dinners. It’s great right now, because we’ve built this clientele up and a name as a wine bistro, which is really what I wanted to get to. We have these wine dinners that are getting more popular. They are unbeatable deals. We have wine makers coming out. It’s a five-course meal that is paired with wines from either a specific area, or specific wine maker. While our customers dine, the wine maker will speak and present the wines. It’s somewhat educational, but still a chill, fun night. The other cool thing with do is a four course meal for $45 five nights a week, and Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we do three courses from $35. It’s just about having a beautiful meal that won’t make you go broke.
How do you describe Five Bistro?
It’s a family business, beautiful, elegant. You can taste the freshness of all the food. The servers are unbelievably professional and knowledgeable, tops around town. The whole place is cozy, unassuming and relaxing. If you’re sitting with a coat and tie, you’ll get beautiful service. If you’re in jeans, you’ll get beautiful service too. The whole idea of a bistro is that it’s casual. You can come in before a ballgame and feel at home, or after a show at The Fox or the symphony and feel comfortable. Sometimes I’ll find out that somebody famous or important is at one of our tables, and truthfully, usually I’m so deep in shit, I don’t have time to worry about it. But every customer is just as important as the next. That kind of stuff doesn’t matter to me. If it’s your anniversary and you’re here eating, and you might have had to save up to come to this dinner, you are twenty times more important. Maybe it’s your date night, your one night out away from your kids, and you chose to come here, that’s awesome. And you’ll be treated that way when you come in here.
You are the owner and head chef. How do manage to fulfill both roles?
Well… it’s a big pain in the ass, but it’s awesome and it’s fun. I wouldn’t be able to run this restaurant without my parents and my girlfriend, Stephanie Kessler. She works at Newstead Tower Public House, and the four of us have been running things for four years. There are times we fight like cats and dogs, and a couple days where we don’t talk to each other except to find out how many people are on the books and what time we start service. But without the three of them, there would be no way for me to do what I do. Stephanie is a graphic artist by trade, she does our Web site, and then I made her fall in love with me and suckered her into working with me. It’s family. We piss and bitch at each other, but then we sit down, get it out and move forward. It’s just real family.
What makes a good meal?
Lots of care, it’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if you’re making pizza and burgers or fine dining cuisine. There has to be care in the way it’s prepared.
Check out what it's like inside the kitchen at Five Bistro.