Apronomics: Ben Grupe of Tempus
From competing in the prestigious culinary competition Bocuse d’Or to earning a James Beard Award nomination, Ben Grupe continues to make his mark in the culinary world. The hometowner has been cooking professionally since he was 18, and he’s managed to thrive in the intensely competitive industry. In 2020, he undertook one of the biggest challenges for any chef: launching his own restaurant.
Growing up in St. Louis, Grupe enjoyed visiting Forest Park with family, and he recalls spending the 4th of July each year at Fair St. Louis, taking in the spectacle and celebration. “St. Louis is where my friends and family are,” he says. “It’s always been my home base.” He had an interest in food from a young age. His father was an avid fisherman and often grilled and barbecued, which captured his attention. “I didn’t take cooking seriously at first, but I always was fascinated by it,” he notes.
Professionally, Grupe entered the culinary field by happenstance. He secured a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant where many of his friends already worked. Initially, the lifestyle of hospitality work is what drew him in. “There was a lot of camaraderie and a party environment, and that’s what attracted me at the time,” he says. “It was exciting; however, it wasn’t sustainable. Drugs and alcohol are among the biggest problems that plague our industry. When I started taking cooking more seriously, that part lost its luster. I knew I had to shape up in order to get ahead and make something of myself.”
While working at a local club, Grupe was introduced to The Greenbrier Culinary Apprenticeship Program at The Greenbriar, a world-class resort in West Virginia. The three-year apprenticeship is designed to offer the training and refinement necessary for a successful career in the food and beverage industry. It covers a variety of skills, including classical cuisine, regional and international cooking, butchery, and gastronomy. “It’s like a boot camp for chefs,” Grupe says. “The program is super rigorous with a very low pass rate. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Graduates come out extremely well rounded and disciplined with a strong foundation for how to carry themselves in the kitchen.”
The program’s curriculum includes competitive practical exams, and Grupe discovered he enjoyed that aspect. “Many chefs who go through the program end up competing in the Culinary Olympics,” he notes. In 2009, he applied for the U.S. team after completing his apprenticeship. Ultimately, he was accepted and competed for six years, serving as team captain in 2016. “I was more or less obsessed with it for a while,” he says. “I enjoy the focus you put into an almost unachievable goal that can only be reached through rigor and determination. Plus, the camaraderie of the team was always very inspiring.”
After settling back in St. Louis with his wife, Grupe made a name for himself in the local culinary scene. He worked in several restaurants, including a very successful tenure as executive chef at Bengelina Hospitality Group’s flagship restaurant, Elaia. He enjoys being able to help draw attention to the St. Louis restaurant community. “There’s a lot of talent here, but unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed,” he says. “When friends come from out of town, they are always wowed by the variety and good vibe here. The city is definitely on the move.”
Now, Grupe is building St. Louis’ reputation through his own restaurant, Tempus, located in The Grove. It launched to tremendous success last year, but he notes that opening a restaurant during a global pandemic has been a roller coaster ride. “COVID-19 has disrupted everything, so we’ve been taking it one day at a time,” he says. “While there is more stability now, things still aren’t back to 100% normal yet. Our team has been very proactive when it comes to keeping staff and guests safe. There has been something exciting about rallying together.”
Inspiration for Tempus’ menu comes from a variety of places, according to Grupe. “Our menu is ingredient driven, but it also comes from my own food memories and trends I notice,” he says, adding that he is often inspired to try new plating methods or flavor combinations that he sees on social media. “You see something cool and take a crack at it yourself.” The chef is excited to be able to look out from the restaurant’s kitchen at a full house in the not-too-distant future. “I want to see people’s expressions when they eat my food!” he says. “For any chef, getting to witness someone enjoy a dining experience you created is pretty incredible.”
2 lbs. shishito peppers (washed)
Ginger Chile Sauce
225 g rice wine vinegar
225 g fish sauce
112 g granulated sugar
12 g Calabrian chiles
Togarashi to season
Crispy brown rice
Ginger Chile Sauce
- In a dry skillet, toast the chiles until fragrant. Grind in spice grinder.
- Heat vinegar, fish sauce and sugar in a pot until sugar is dissolved.
- Whisk in chiles; allow to infuse overnight before use.
- Place the peppers on a preheated grill and cook until lightly charred, or lay the peppers out on a sheet pan and broil in the oven until lightly charred.
- Place the peppers in a bowl, and toss with the ginger chile sauce.
- Garnish with togarashi and crispy brown rice.
- Reserve any remaining sauce.
Photos: Bill Barrett