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What happens to a chef after his or her dream of owning a restaurant is over? Open a new restaurant? Work for someone else? Change careers? If you’re Eric Brenner, the chef-owner of Moxy, which closed in 2010, you take advantage of opportunities as they arise. A self-proclaimed “culinary gypsy,” Brenner was already consulting with a number of restaurants before Moxy’s closure, including Kaldi’s, Z, SubZero Vodka Bar, and Molly’s. Those experiences led to a long-term, part-time consulting gig with the Isle of Capri Casinos, which relocated from Mississippi to St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina. Concurrently, he developed a catering program for Robust Wine Bar and continues to shape that brand for a planned expansion (the first phase being a second unit in the MX project on Washington Ave., due to open in the fall).
His move from restaurant chef-owner to casino culinary consultant may be considered by some as selling out. “I never thought I’d be working for a casino. I see it in other chefs’ eyes when I tell them I’m a consulting chef at a casino,” Brenner explained, adding, “Other chefs already felt like Moxy was a sellout because I was cooking to the neighborhood.” Brenner’s philosophy—“you cook for people, not at people”—may not sit well with some chefs, but it explains why he’s been so successful as a consultant: he can look at a market and know what it wants. One chef’s version of selling out is another’s clever solution to transitioning in what can be a fickle and grinding industry.
The “cooking for people” philosophy also drives Brenner’s involvement with BOLD Organics, a premium frozen pizza company that makes gluten- and dairy-free pizzas. In what he calls a “serendipitous confluence,” Brenner was contacted by Blake Brokaw, who knew a Wash U professor who knew a student working on a project for an entrepreneurship class—a project initially undertaken because the student, Aaron Greenwald (with Brenner, at right), wanted to increase his fitness level and overall health for competitive tennis. Why Brenner? Because he was known at Moxy for catering to customers’ dietary restrictions and preferences. Sold locally at all Dierbergs, BOLD Organics’ products will be available in nearly 1000 stores nationwide by the end of the year, including all Whole Foods stores on the West Coast. A recent article in Forbes magazine attests to the company’s growing visibility.
Pizzas include the Vegan Cheese (at left), Veggie Lovers, Meat Lovers, and Deluxe. The website offers tips on how to personalize your pizza by adding more ingredients such as seasonal vegetables, beef tenderloin, lobster, and bacon and eggs. Such tips will appeal to those who find themselves somewhere between cooking from scratch and relying on pre-made foods for convenience. The crisp, herb-infused crusts and soy cheese will fool even the most discerning pizza lovers. In the works are pizzas without soy and other gluten-free products like pasta.
After so many years in the professional kitchen, Brenner still finds his internal clock ramping up at 5:30 PM in anticipation for a busy night of cooking. Instead, he spends many evenings in the front of the house, as a consultant, watching how a restaurant runs. A recent vacation to California wine country, which included an unforgettable dinner at The French Laundry, gave Brenner time to reflect on his career path as he looks toward the future.
Coincidentally, this interview took place on the day that he made a critical decision about his involvement with BOLD Organics: He is now the CCO or “Chief Culinary Officer” of the company. And, the fact that we met across the street from Taste, where Moxy once stood, provided a sense of closure for the chef-entrepreneur. Without a trace of braggadocio, Brenner mused, “I’ve been pretty blessed. Things always work out for me.”