3 meals that changed St. Louis chef David Sandusky's life

David Sandusky went from culinary school graduate and ministry school dropout to fine dining chef to barbecue titan. His fledgling barbecue empire of Beast restaurants is growing, and the latest, Beast Southern Kitchen & BBQ, is this year’s Readers’ Choice Favorite New Restaurant. “I just wanted to do some fun shit. Barbecue was a natural fit for a few reasons. One is: It’s competitive as shit, and I am competitive as shit,” Sandusky said of his career pivot. “I wanted to do something that hit people in the chest, something that met them at their dinner table and was part of their everyday life, not some pretentious meal you’re going to have once a year. It’s just not who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do at that point in my life.” Clearly, his intentions are landing, and diners are loving every bite. Here, Sandusky talks about three meals that changed his life. 

Beef Stroganoff | 1986
The first dish that changed my life was my mother’s beef stroganoff, which was made with cream of mushroom soup. It blew my mind. I still try to mimic that from time to time without using cream of mushroom soup, and I’m not always successful. It became my favorite meal. It’s what she made me for my birthday. She showed me how to open the can without cutting my fingers off – stuff like that. (She used) like bouillon cubes and finished it with sour cream. It was just the absolute worst recipe. I appreciate really good food in places where I’m not supposed to. I think it’s really easy to appreciate good things in a fine-dining restaurant; you appreciate where the ingredients came from, you appreciate how they’re being prepared. But there’s really something to be said for just doing stuff that tastes good and feels good. That’s why I got out of fine dining and into barbecue.

Bouillabaisse | 2001
I think there’s an attention to detail that my background brings to what I do that I learned from chef Phillip Paris. With him, good enough is never good enough – that’s what I learned. I would say that a dish that impacted me was his bouillabaisse. In particular, the way that he created it. It’s just a classic stew, but it’s a soulful dish. And the way that he built those flavors, it made me realize that flavoring things is more than just adding ingredients. There’s a way to bring up those flavors and bring them out for each dish in their highest form, and that’s the art. Also, that flavor comes from texture, and it’s about surface area. You need the right surface area to achieve the textures that you need to achieve the flavors that you need.

Snoot | 2012
Smoki O’s snoot blew me away. It makes me a little sad – because I appreciate the roots of things. I appreciate the cultural aspect of it. I love to learn why and when and how it relates to people. I think we’ve forgotten a lot about where barbecue came from and what made it great. When I find great barbecue, it’s not in the place that someone told me to go; I have to dig for it myself. And typically I find it in hole-in-the wall places in the inner city. You don’t find [snoot] on a lot of menus in St. Louis anymore. It has this beautiful crunch. It has this awesome burnt bacon kind of quality to it. The texture is crazy because it’s crunchy, but then you have these bursts of fat. It’s just a one-of-a-kind thing and that’s my favorite barbecue cut, by far. I saw it (at Smoki O’s) and thought, “What the hell is this?” Because what they teach you about barbecue is ribs and pulled pork and brisket and chicken – you don’t get these off-cuts. Like, the reason why we do low and slow is because we’re taking terrible pieces of meat and making something good out of them, and that’s the whole reason barbecue exists.

Beast Butcher & Block, 4156 Manchester Ave., St. Louis,  314.944.6003, beastbbqstl.com; Beast Craft BBQ Co. 20 S. Belt W., Belleville, 618.257.9000, beastcraftbbq.com; Beast Southern Kitchen & BBQ, 1280 Columbia Center, Columbia, 618.719.2384, beastsouthern.com