Apronomics: Doug Weerts

Cooking dinner for 200 people at midnight in a cornfield outside Boston is a unique experience, and one not many chefs can say they’ve had. But it’s just one meal out of thousands in the culinary career of Doug Weerts. The St. Louis native has worked across the country in a variety of roles, from serving movie stars to bringing Pi Pizzeria to the nation’s capital. Now, he’s serving up his own innovative and out-of-the-box pizza creations at Firecracker Pizza & Beer in The Grove.

Food wasn’t always something that interested Weerts. “I wasn’t the kid who cooked with his mom or grandmother,” he recalls. “I always was outside racing motorcycles. I loved anything outdoors.” His interest in the culinary arts didn’t begin until he was 19 or 20, but it led him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York. While the training was intense, it helped prepare him for the chaotic nature of working in a kitchen. “They really show you the ropes of what any real restaurant is going to be like,” he says. “They didn’t hold anything back when it came to teaching real life experience. It was fast-paced and hardcore.”

That intensity has been emblematic of Weerts’ career. One of his more unique jobs was as a caterer on movie sets. The midnight dinner mentioned previously? Weerts was working on the set of the Tom Cruise movie Knight and Day. He cooked while the crew and actors worked on a plane explosion stunt. Excitement and chaos were par for the course. “There was some craziness to cooking for celebrities,” he says. “Every day was a new location and menu, and you’d work 18 to 19 hours a day. You had to love cooking.”

The chef’s energy and ability to thrive in hectic situations has served him well in local kitchens, too. Since returning to St. Louis, he has been at the helm of Atomic Cowboy and Pi Pizzeria. The latter landed him in Washington, D.C., for 10 weeks to open a new location. He’s excited to be part of St. Louis’ thriving culinary scene, noting that when he was younger, the restaurants here couldn’t compete with either coast. “St. Louis has grown a lot in the last decade,” he says. “It’s cool to be a part of helping the food scene develop to its full potential.”

Weerts is making his mark as executive chef of Firecracker, a casual spot from Atomic Cowboy owner Chip Schloss located right across the street. “Opening a restaurant and helping design it from the ground up has been an amazing experience,” Weerts says. The menu is a combination of ideas from Schloss and Weerts’ inspired creations, and the names also pack a unique punch. Many pizzas are named after bands (like the Beastie Boys-inspired No Sleep ’till Brooklyn, a turkey reuben pie and Weerts’ favorite), but there’s also a cinematic influence. “A lot of the names come from a scene in Joe Dirt that’s about firecrackers,” he explains. References to the movie include the Sizzlin’ Whisker Biscuits and Whistlin’ Kitty Chaser.

Despite his impressive pizza pedigree, Weerts says he doesn’t want to limit himself to one thing. He has had an eclectic career, and he wants to continue to grow as a chef. “I’m not one to really talk about myself,” he notes. “I’d much rather be doing the work. Hopefully, people like the product I put out.” Luckily, Firecracker will keep him busy and allow him to continue to flex his creative muscles. Each quarter the restaurant will feature two special pizzas: one that uses seasonal brews and another inspired by rock-n-roll. “It’s been crazy,” he says of the restaurant’s opening in March, but Weerts wouldn’t have it any other way.

honey habañero chocolate chip cookies

2 ½ c high-gluten flour
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
½ softened butter
¾ c granulated sugar
¾ c brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 eggs
12 oz. chocolate chips
1 t honey
1 seeded and finely diced habanero
Zest of half an orange

» Cream butter and sugars in mixer for 5 minutes; add one egg at a time.
» Add all other ingredients except chocolate chips. Mix until combined, then add chocolate chips just to blend.
» Bake in 350°F oven for 18 minutes, turning halfway through.