Apronomics: Chef Bill Cardwell

After many years in the all-consuming restaurant industry, Bill Cardwell is getting a taste of a different life. Over the decades, the chef built up notable St. Louis staples like Cardwell’s, Cardwell’s at the Plaza and BC’s Kitchen before ultimately leaving restaurants behind. His final farewell was closing the doors to Cardwell’s at the Plaza last year.

However, that doesn’t mean he has hung up his toque. Operating simply under the name Chef Bill Cardwell, he now offers services as a private chef and consultant, bringing his years of expertise into culinary classrooms and clients’ homes. He’s also available to advise up-and-coming restaurateurs on the best recipes for business success.

Before he became synonymous with innovative cuisine in St. Louis, Cardwell graduated with highest honors from the Culinary Institute of America, studied under Albert Stockli of the Four Seasons Hotel New York and gathered hands-on experience in Swiss kitchens. Here in the StL, he earned a reputation for fresh, seasonal fare in a sustainable, locally sourced setting.

Cardwell says he took some much-needed time off and now is primed for the latest phase of his career. “I spent time with my grandkids and went skiing,” he says. “I especially enjoy the mountains of Colorado and Utah.” He also stayed busy working on new business ideas and cooking at home, which he finds therapeutic. “It definitely keeps me in the groove,” he notes.

The chef says flexibility is the watchword for his new venture. “I’m doing small events like dinner parties and special occasions in clients’ homes or commercial spaces,” he says. “I also advise people on starting new restaurants and designing menus, and I’m always looking for new opportunities. It’s nice to be able to do whatever I feel like doing. If I come across something that makes sense, or someone brings me a good idea, I will look into it. Pretty much, if it’s anything to do with hospitality, I’m there.”

His cooking classes are open to individual and corporate clients, and he enjoys crafting events that combine food with motivational messages. On the private dining side, his business doesn’t include catering and he isn’t available for large events, but he does enjoy creating family-style, buffet dinners for groups of 30 or 40. “After the holidays, I’ll do some private classes for people who received one of my gift certificates,” he says. “I love how all of these ideas help keep me in the food business.”

So what particular flavors strike his fancy this time of year? “I like to use a lot of root vegetables, squash and greens in the fall and winter,” he says. “I’m pretty seasonal with my at-home diet. I don’t have one food profile that I stick with, but I am big into international flavors like Mediterranean. And my wife enjoys spicy dishes, so I use a lot of chiles and aromatic seasonings.” At the time of our conversation, he was mulling over how to dress up fresh red snapper for dinner. “I really enjoy working with local growers and sellers,” he says. “Tower Grove Farmers Market is my go-to for produce.”

And on those occasions when the chef doesn’t feel like cooking, he ventures out for sushi and Italian food. “There are a lot of great new places I haven’t yet been able to try,” Cardwell says. “When I was running my own restaurants, I rarely had time to dine out unless I was in another city. Now, I’ll have the chance to do some things for myself.” 

citrus-fennel salad
Yields: 4 servings

1 large blood or navel orange, peeled in sections
1 pink grapefruit, peeled in sections
1 fresh fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced
1 Belgian endive, cored and sliced on bias
4 c young salad greens
4 c baby arugula
4 T each toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds
1 ⁄ 2 c dried cranberries or cherries
1 c crumbled artisan blue or goat cheese

Maple dressing:
2 T maple syrup
1 T each Dijon mustard, lemon juice and sherry vinegar
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 t sea salt
3 oz. extra virgin olive oil

▶ Toss dressing with greens, endive, arugula and fennel.
▶ Plate mixture, and arrange citrus around perimeter.
▶ Sprinkle with dried fruit, seeds and cheese.
▶ Serve as an appetizer or as an entree topped with salmon, scallops or chicken.

Photos: Bill Barrett

Citrus-Fennel Salad
Apronomics: Chef Bill Cardwell
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Apronomics: Chef Bill Cardwell
After many years in the all-consuming restaurant industry, Bill Cardwell is getting a taste of a different life.
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