St. Louisans are pretty lucky when it come to food. If you can name it, chances are we have it: Italian, Vietnamese, German, Mexican, French, Indian, Bosnian and so much more. Chef Jessie Gilroy fits right into the city’s mix of culinary treasures. Her career has taken her across the country to experience cuisines from around the world. Her passion for food and flavor innovation led her to leave her prominent role as sous chef at Sidney Street Cafe and open Pangea in St. Charles. “What you cook is an influence of everything you’ve been around and learned about,” she says. “I love food from around the world and have an eclectic heritage. It all sort of works together.”

Gilroy, a St. Louis native, studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami, Florida. Along with her formal instruction, she experienced the city’s exciting blend of cultures. “It was a lot of fun,” she recalls. “I got to experience so many types of South American food—Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican.” This exposure to various flavors sparked her interest in how different cuisines can work together. She also lived in Hawaii, where she learned about Asian food and culture.

When she returned home, Gilroy continued to work with multiple food genres. She spent time at Charlie Gitto’s and The Tavern and helped open Cucina Pazzo. But she says her experience at Sidney Street Cafe was her favorite and truly strengthened her culinary repertoire. “I learned all sorts of new techniques that I had never done or even seen before,” she says. “It was there that I discovered my love of butchery.”

With her varied culinary experiences and interests, Gilroy says she can’t name a favorite dish or style of cuisine. “I just like to cook,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what it is.” The inspiration for her food comes from whatever is in season or sounds good, she explains, which means trips to Herman Farm Orchard to develop new recipe ideas. Her proximity to the farm is a perk of Pangea’s location. Gilroy says getting the space was a stroke of a good luck— quite literally. “My name came up during a golf game, and the next thing I knew, I was going to look at the building,” she says. “I fell in love with New Town and knew it would be a great spot to open my restaurant.”

Gilroy’s vision for Pangea was to create a menu that embraces how flavors from around the world can complement one another. The restaurant’s name reflects this vision. It refers to the supercontinent that existed before movement in the earth’s tectonic plates broke it apart. “Everything was cohesive,” she explains. “There was no divide between cultures; food was shared.” At Pangea, diners will find French Onion Soup alongside Tempura Vegetables and Jerk Fried Chicken. “You don’t have to use just salt and pepper,” Gilroy says. “Flavors from different parts of the world taste great together.”

pork and egg
braised pork belly
2 lbs. pork belly (skin removed)
2 dried chilies
1 c soy sauce
½ c mirin
1 qt pork stock
1 bundle of thyme2 bay leaves1 yellow onion (rough chop)1 c white wine
2 cinnamon sticks
10 cloves garlic
1/8 C whole cloves
1/8 C juniper berries

pork dashi
1 qt pork stock
1 qt braising liquid
¼ c mirin
½ c rice wine vinegar
¼ c soy sauce
1 c bonito flakes
2 sheets of kombu

poached egg
amount of eggs desired
3 qt of water
¼ c white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

» In braising pan, sauté onions until golden brown. Deglaze with wine, and let reduce.
» Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer.
» Add pork belly with the fat side up; cover pan with foil.
» Braise pork belly at 250 F for 2 and half to 3 hours or until tender.
» Let pork belly rest in liquid for 1 hour uncovered before removing.
» Strain liquid out and reserve for the pork dashi.
» For pork dashi, bring all ingredients to a boil and reduce by half. Turn off and let the bonito and kombu steep in the liquid for another 30 minutes before straining through a fine mesh strainer.
» Poach eggs.
» To plate, cut pork belly into 2-inch thick pieces, and pan sear on each side until golden brown and warm in the middle. Top with the poached egg. Pour the dashi around the pork belly and serve.

Photos: Bill Barrett