Apronomics: Logan Ely of Savage
A meal at Logan Ely’s new Fox Park restaurant, Savage, is kind of like dinner and a show. Guests sit in a single, open space that accommodates 22 and includes the kitchen and bar, so they can enjoy watching staff mix drinks, sauté ingredients, blend sauces and plate food.
Diners who come in to learn about the place find that it’s a two-way street; Ely, a St. Louis native, wants to know more about them as well. “This setup is good for me as the owner because if you stop in for a meal and it looks like you’re not enjoying yourself, I can address that right away,” he notes. “I also can get a better idea of timing. When you’re behind a kitchen wall, you can’t tell if guests are ready for the next course, or if it’s a good time to go over and talk to them. In this space, I’m not far away if people have questions. I think the days of chefs tucked in the back of the building are on their way out.”
The integrated floor plan didn’t happen by design. Ely’s buildout budget was minimal, so he had to work with existing structural features and hit up friends to help with the work. He says the building had a somewhat sketchy past as a liquor store, but he has enjoyed working with business partner Brian Schuman to give it a fresh identity.
Ely offers an evolving, set menu that is vegetable-focused and includes seafood but no meat. “It was a bit of a by-product of my space and budget,” he explains. “With a set menu, I have more control over spending and can limit food waste.” And there still is room for some on-the-fly thinking. “If a local farmer has 5 pounds of beautiful mushrooms at a good price, most restaurants won’t be interested because the amount is too small,” Ely says. “But I can take those 5 pounds and make a great dish for 10 people one day. This way of doing things gives me a lot more freedom and control at the same time.”
He says his own favorite foods tend toward the straightforward and uncomplicated. “As a cook, you’re always eating on the go, so the dishes I make for myself are fast and easy, like rice and beans,” he says. “At home, I love cooking soups and stews—simple, flavorful meals that only require one pot and not many utensils.”
Ely also gravitates toward savory flavors, and he says his personal preferences spill over onto the restaurant menu. “I like to use ingredients such as seaweed, vinegars and miso because they are powerful,” he notes. “We tend to season food pretty aggressively. I enjoy getting things to the point where they are not too salty or acidic but are almost headed in that direction. I think there’s nothing more disappointing than going out for a meal and being served bland food.”
As much as he enjoys culinary expression, Ely believes it shouldn’t become a comfort zone. “I don’t think you ever can say restaurant cooking is a calming or centering experience,” he notes. “You’re constantly deciding what dishes and flavors will work well, often second-guessing yourself. You are always changing and tweaking ideas and wondering if people will like them. If you ever find the experience therapeutic, it means you’ve gotten too comfortable. It’s because you are not challenging yourself, you’re overconfident, or you are just cooking the same things every day.”
The chef adds that while he enjoys being in charge of a commercial kitchen and whipping up dishes at home, he’s happy to let others wield pots and pans as well. “I feel no need to control the stove in my off hours,” he notes. “I’m extremely easy to please. At family gatherings, I don’t go in and try to take over what Grandma is cooking.”
Ely says his education in the kitchen is an ongoing process that has been much more practical than institutional. He attended the culinary arts program at St. Louis Community College in Forest Park, but also lived abroad and absorbed a variety of cooking styles before returning to St. Louis. “I realized that if you’re going to be successful, you need to be around people who know a lot more than you,” he says.
Photos by Bill Barrett