Ones to Watch 2021 // Madeline Hissong
Madeline Hissong has been on a journey. Living a true 21st-century nomadic life, she cooked her way across the country for years, sometimes traveling alone, sometimes with friends. She went to Indiana, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. She cooked at a resort in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, at the lauded Vie in Chicago, and at The Kitchen in Ft. Collins, Colorado, a bistro owned by Elon Musk’s brother. When she started cooking, she found it to be an anchor during an otherwise totally unpredictable time in her life. “Cooking is unmatched adrenaline,” she said. “It’s a bit different than anything I’d ever done. I was just 22, just drifting around.”
Drifting led Hissong to St. Louis in 2014, where she enrolled in culinary school and started working at Brasserie, Pastaria and Sardella. Moving over to Juniper in 2018, where she served as sous chef, she became known for her work ethic and for making the Southern restaurant’s incredible bread baskets. “Anybody I look at and think, ‘You work a crazy amount,’ is impressive to me,” said Matt Daughaday, executive chef of Juniper, adding that Hissong was working multiple jobs at the time. “That drive was definitely there.”
In spite of the long hours and hard work, or perhaps spurred by it, she started to become more aware of her drinking, which she describes during that period as “heavily and every day.” Inspired in part by the story of Sean Brock, the hard-living, James Beard Award-winning chef who famously took a break from running his restaurants in 2017 to go to rehab, Hissong decided to make a change. “I did that classic cook thing,” she said: She left Juniper to get sober.
“I just want people to know that life doesn’t end if you have to make a change like that,” she explained, pointing out that her Juniper family was highly supportive of her choice. “Not only did she deal with it, she didn’t walk away from the thing she cared about in the process,” observed Daughaday. “I have not seen that out of anybody else.”
Hissong landed at Knead Bakehouse, where she now works as kitchen manager, focusing on savory dishes, sandwiches, jams and doughnuts. “It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to be a baker,” she said. “But it checked all the boxes.” There, she’s found joy in perfecting her triple chocolate-sourdough doughnut and her meatball sub, and looks forward to new projects, including running a solo hand-pie booth in the 2021 farmers market circuit.
Hissong’s roaming days might be behind her, but her sense of adventure definitely isn’t. “There’s a heartbeat here that’s so unique and special,” she said of St. Louis. “I love it here.” With a traveling pedigree like hers, that’s saying something.
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