jerremy kirby of small batch whiskey and fare
You might think being vegan would place some limits on a chef’s repertoire, but Small Batch’s Jerremy Kirby proves otherwise. He strives to make vegetable-centric cuisine that appeals to a wide audience, even developing ways for non-meat eaters to enjoy the taste of barbecue.
When it comes to meatless cooking, Small Batch (owned by the locally based Baileys’ Restaurants) isn’t the Bethalto, Illinois, native’s first trip around the block. After training at the former Le Cordon Bleu in St. Louis, he spent time in kitchens at Tree House in Tower Grove and other plant-focused dining spots. “I have experience working with a variety of global cuisines, too,” he says. “I like to create dishes inspired by different food traditions like Thai, Brazilian, Indian, German and classic French.”
As the Small Batch name implies, there also is a focus on distilled spirits as an important complement to a meal. Kirby says he works closely with bar manager Nikki Brown to incorporate whiskey, bourbon and rye into the restaurant’s offerings, both on their own and in recipes and mixed drinks. Dessert and alcohol pairings round out the menu, matching sweet treats such as cheesecake and chocolate with smooth-drinking whiskeys like Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Another after-dinner delicacy, known simply as Pumpkin, features an actual steamed pumpkin shell stuffed with spiced vegan custard.
It makes sense for the restaurant to pair spirits with vegetable dishes. Both are made with products from the earth, and Kirby says the two work well together. “Like any other strongly flavored ingredient, whiskey affects the taste of food when you cook with it,” he says. “We start each dish with a vegetable base and build on that.”
Some chefs mold a restaurant menu to match their own tastes, but Kirby says he shies away from that. “I’m a practicing vegan, and what I bring to the table at Small Batch is vegan, but I don’t cook the same dishes for myself that I do for the restaurant,” he explains. With that said, he definitely has some menu favorites. “The khao soi is my top choice,” he says. “It’s a flavorful, traditional Thai noodle soup. When I’m in the dining room and see guests eating it, I always ask for their opinions. I really enjoy hearing what people have to say about the food, and the feedback usually is very positive. We also have some longstanding vegetarian items that are favorites of our regulars, so we keep those around in addition to the vegan dishes.”
To spice things up, Kirby revamps other aspects of the menu from time to time, and recently, he has been including a housemade vegan meat substitute made from high-gluten flour dough. “It’s a lot like making bread and takes about five hours,” he says of the process. “The finished product looks like meatloaf, it tastes like meat, and the texture is spot on.” He recently added the substitute to the menu at Knockout BBQ, also owned by Baileys’ Restaurants. “So far, we’ve used it to make things like barbecue skewers,” he notes.
Kirby says originality is an important ingredient in all of his efforts. “I stay away from what other vegan restaurants are cooking,” he explains. “There are some new places coming onto the St. Louis scene, but I feel there’s enough room for us all to do our own thing.” He does keep an eye on other restaurants’ menus to ensure there’s no duplication.
The chef says he enjoys belonging to the St. Louis culinary community and taking part in cookoffs, holiday dinners and other events. “I get the most satisfaction out of just watching guests enjoy what we prepare,” Kirby says. “That’s what makes me happy.”
4 small pumpkins
28 oz. raw cashews
28 oz. coconut milk
6 T lemon juice
9 T maple syrup
1⁄2 T salt
1 T vanilla extract
2 t cinnamon
2 t cardamom
1 t each cloves, nutmeg, allspice
▶ Cut off tops of pumpkins and remove seeds and pulp.
▶ Place upright on a deep baking sheet with a thin layer of water. Cover with foil and steam in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
▶ Soak cashews in hot water for 1 hour. Pulse in a blender with the coconut milk, lemon juice, maple syrup, vanilla, salt and spices until smooth.
▶ Pour blended mixture into the pumpkins.
▶ Freeze overnight. Thaw, slice and serve.
Photos: Bill Barrett