Apronomics: Thu Rein Oo of The Crossing

The Crossing’s executive chef, Thu Rein Oo, has come a very long way. Eleven years ago, he arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from Malaysia, and shortly after that, he was washing dishes for a living. “I had nothing and I knew nothing,” says Oo, 30, who has headed the kitchen at the popular Clayton restaurant for the past year.

Oo is originally from Burma and although he grew up watching his mother and grandmother cook, he says Burmese food is very different from the food he prepares at The Crossing, which specializes in high-end French and Italian cuisine. “I never had seen Italian or French food before, and I really didn’t like it,” he confesses. “Too much wine!”

He washed dishes for two years but was always watching from the sidelines. “I was intrigued; the dishes the chefs prepared were so pretty, so fancy-looking,” he says. “I wanted to have a go at it myself.” So, on less busy days, he helped out at the salad station, chopping and tossing and learning his way around dressings, the delicate balance of oils and acids. From there, he made his way to fish, and gradually caught the attention of The Crossing’s owner, Jim Fiala. “Jimmy said I was smart and learning quickly,” Oo remembers. “He let me do more around the kitchen, and eventually I was promoted to sous chef.” By tasting the food he was helping to prepare, Oo grew to like it and became more adventurous with cuisine that until then had seemed foreign to him. “I started to have my own ideas about it—what tasted good, what went well with what,” he says.

After four years as sous chef, Oo became executive chef, and just this year he was named champion of the Taste of St. Louis Chef Battle Royale. His winning dish was monkfish cooked in coconut milk with basil, a dash of beer and a pinch of saffron for color.

Now, as head of the kitchen at The Crossing, this young chef knows the sky is the limit for his future. He changes the menu three times a week and comes up with daily specials to delight diners. The restaurant’s Grand Tasting Menu is an eight-course feast paired with wine and can be ordered any day of the week. “I still have never been to France or Italy, but I hope to go one day,” Oo says. “Until then, I guess I’ll just keep doing my own thing!”

stuffed calamari

2 lbs. calamari
1⁄2 c carrots, diced very small
1⁄4 c shallots, diced very small
1⁄2 c Brussels sprouts, chopped small
1⁄2 c fresh gulf shrimp, chopped small
1 T oyster sauce
2 oz. butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 c eggplant, peeled and diced
1 tsp lemon juice and zest for garnish
Peppercorns, Old Bay seasoning,
cinnamon and salt for poaching
Pickled sweet red and yellow peppers

garnish if needed:
Red pepper purée
Lemon zest
oyster sauce

Poach whole calamari for 1 minute in peppercorns, Old Bay seasoning, cinnamon and salt mixture. Take out and put in ice bath.
>> Sauté the carrots, shallots, Brussels sprouts, shrimp and oyster sauce until softened.
>> Using a funnel, stuff the calamari with the vegetables. Pan sear in butter and oil and a little rosemary. Finish with lemon juice.
>> Sauté the eggplant and pickled sweet red and yellow peppers in a little oil and butter. Garnish with red pepper purée, lemon zest, oyster sauce and microgreens.