A conversation with Tony Collida of Chatawa and the Grand Pied – St. Louis Magazine

Posted By on August 22, 2021

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the August 2021 issue of SLM.Chatawa and the Grand Pied opened August 18.

One might expect a chef with 20 notches on his restaurant belt to be enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Hardly, jokes Tony Collida. His latest project, Chatawa and the Grand Pied (3137 Morganford), is named after two legendary swamp creatures (grand pied translates to big foot in French).The restaurant and bar honors the cuisine and cocktails of St. Louis and points south, where the beasts supposedly roamed.

Your parents owned the Piccadilly at Manhattan. How long had they owned it before you started there? They actually bought into it later in life. My dad was a retired grocery store manager, and my mom had several jobs. My great-grandfather started the restaurant in about 1900, and it passed down to different relatives, but it was my mom and dad who were the first family members to actually want to run the restaurant. My sister Molly, who runs it now, has always wanted to be part of it, too. She and I were the fourth generation to get involved. My second cousin works there nowhes the fifthand he just had a daughter, so well see.

What was it like in those days? Even though it was called the Piccadilly Buffet back then, it was more like a neighborhood dive bar. I remember seeing my grandmother in back flipping burgers. I remember the older regulars sitting at the bar with their quarters; theyd stack up 15 of them, which means they intended to drink 15 glasses of beer.

When did the renovation into The Piccadilly at Manhattan begin and end?My parents bought the building in 2002, lived upstairs, and took five years to renovate and reopen the restaurant, along with several uncles, and myself. I was in my early twenties. When we reopened as The Piccadilly at Manhattan, I was working full-time at Red Moon at night and Balabans full-time during the day. I had to quit both in order to do it.

Any crazy stories from your early days? When we upgraded to one of the large, charcoal-fired rotisserie smokers, we loaded it wrong one dayyou had to balance the load, or the shelves would catch each other, which they did. To save what at the time was a fortunes worth of pork, I got in there to rebalance the loadpast my hipswith my dad holding onto my feet to keep me from tumbling in. It was a classic save the meat or else move.One other time, I was cooking a whole Berkshire hog for a partybut didnt think how Id get that 110-pound hunk of hot meat out of the smoker. A buddy and I managed to hug that thing out, covering ourselves in pork fat, and all we could do was laugh.

How long did you work at The Piccadilly?Two separate stints, three and a half years total, the second time waiting tables. Having family running the front and back of the house is difficult. We all certainly knew it and sometimes the customer ended up hearing a little too much, too. At one point, I decided to leave. I was 31 at the time.

What recipes were you responsible for at The Piccadilly?I learned to smoke and grill from my dad, but I did introduce a rib rub thats still the one they use.

At one time, you took issue with someone calling you a chef.I thought I wanted to be a chef, but once you learn all that actually entailsmanaging schedules, crunching numbers, managing others personal problemsyou look at it differently. The cooking aspect is a minor part of being a chef, and that was the part that appealed to me.

Are your parents retired?They have a place in Florida, so yes. But they still live upstairs, so the complete answer is yes and no. Over the years, they took the time to get to know everyone who came through the doors. They are the reason that The Piccadilly became as successful as it was.

Your rsum is quite long, extending both before and after the Piccadilly. I wrote down every place once and came up with, like, 20. Id been in the industry seven years before I started at the Piccadilly. My first job, I think, was at a Jewish deli, where I was the prep cook, busser, and dishwasherand I stayed in the industry after that!

What are a few of the places you worked and notable takeaways?

Duffs: A collection of uniquely weird peopleand I mean that with all due respectthat really knew how to operate a restaurant. Karen Duffy, Brendan Kirby, Jimmy Voss, all of them. Right out of high school, it was a transformative experience for me.

Ronnies Ice Cream: I delivered to all of Ron Ryans restaurant accounts, which is what spurred me to get back into the industry. Good thing, too, since I was late to work almost every single day.

The Crossings Grill: The former Two Nice Guys in Webster is where I met Chris Lee, which was another turning point in my life.

Mlange: I was handed my first chef coat by Chris Lee, who co-owned the corner restaurant in the CWE [now Evangelines Bistro]. Chris was classically trained. We bonded, and I became connected to all that tradition.

I have a feeling were just getting started In a four-year period, I worked at Red Moon, Balabans, Johns Town Hall, came to the Piccadilly to run the kitchen, Mangia Italianothe Block and Ces & Judys were in there somewhereand then I worked with Chris Lee again when he ran the kitchens in Dr. [Gurpreet] Paddas restaurants: Caf Ventana, Sanctuaria, Chuys, Hendricks After that, I came back to the Piccadilly, to work the floor this time, and stayed several years. Then I quit the industryI thought for goodwhich is when Andy Kohn approached me to run WildSmoke in Creve Coeur.

WildSmoke was a more upscale barbecueexperiencefast-casual service butserved on china plates, at regular tables, with decent flatware. Why didnt that catch on?What was pitched as a 60-seat concept ended up being 160, which changed everything. On a Saturday, at lunch and dinner, wed sell 600 plates of food, and managing that big machine was difficult. That was not my style and was never going to be. And they had good managers thereall except me.

Then it was on to the Civil Life? Their chef, my friend Brendan Kirby, called me to ask if he could hire my ex-wife, who had applied for a job. I said, No problem, and in talking to her about it decided that I should take the job instead. It ended up being the best of all the places I worked. Jake [Hafner], Brendan, Chris Valier, Joe Mooneythe best people Ive ever worked with in the industry. To be invited into that group was an honor. I felt like I had arrived.

Talk about the food there.The sandwiches were great,but it was Soup Sunday that had a cult following. We had two induction burners and a big pot, so wed prep stocks and soups all week just to be able to handle the hundreds of bowls wed sell on that one day. I stayed five years there and I was happy. But I was also at the top of what Jake could pay, so I moved on.

Then where? Brendanwho was now at Seed, Sprout, Spoonwas planning a catering expansion, and we did well for a year until the pandemic furloughed me. I was able to decompress and to take the sabbatical I didnt know I needed.Cooking at home polished my skills. It made me more confident to try things Id never tried.

Which brings us up to Chatawa, which I understand is pronounced CHAT-uh-wuh. Thomas Crone, who has extensive experience writing about and running bars, came up with the idea. Chatawa is a city in Mississippi where a creature allegedly roamed the nearby woods and swamps. Chatawa is the bar component. I came along and called the kitchen part Grand Pied, French for big foot. So yes, I am the monster in the kitchen.

How big is Chatawa/Grand Pied? Forty seats inside and 30 outside on a former driveway that well convert into a patio with a street-facing bar. Hours will be 311 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and, keeping with the brunch tradition at that address, 9:30 a.m.3p.m. Sunday.

What does the interior look like? Thomas picked up some regional artwork on his trip down south. Joe Allhoff of Trader Bobs Tattoo Shop will paint signage in the two front windows. When I saw this sculpture of a bigfoot at Tamm Avenue Bar, I told owner Bob Brazell, I sure wish I owned that. Knowing what we were planning, he smiled and said, Take it.

Whats on the menu? A big part is what I call modular charcuterie, where people pick and choose different options from a large selection: cheese and crackers or a warm olive salad, pita, and pickles, if thats what theyre in the mood for. Well have small plates and different beignets, including a special St. Louisstyle sweet beignet that Ive been working on, finished with a honeysuckle rock candy. Theres a nod to St. Louis and NOLA that Im calling the St. Paul Prudhomme sandwich, with thin-sliced crispy andouille, sweet pickles, flavored mayo, and an egg patty with the trinity [onions, green bell pepper, celery]. I put the St. Louisstyle tag on a lot of the things I do, because I can. Well, Im from St. Louis, and Ive been making chili this way for 20 years, so

Do you read cookbooks?In my twenties, I was engrossed in food literature, of all kinds, high-end and low-end cookbooks. I love the vintage Better Homes & Gardens, Betty Crocker, Joy of Cooking stuff. My recipe for pancakes that people go crazy over closely resembles one in one of those books.

Can you pigeonhole the cuisine at Chatawa/Grand Pied? If I had to, Id call it food for the people, but its basically a collection of the items Ive had success with over the years. I might do a fried soft-shell crab with coleslaw, a cobbler, and savory beignets, which might become a signature dish. The first will be served with a Prairie Breeze cheese sauce. Sodium citrate can be used to convert any cheeseeven the hard onesinto a sauce, so youll see more variations on that theme.The menu will be fluid and flexible, depending on what proteins, fruits, and vegetables are available fresh that week.

Did the menu change as the pandemic changed the industry? Going into this, I envisioned a couple spending $30 on food, and wrote a menu and set up a kitchen staff based on that. With food and labor costs increasing, I had to rework all the numbers. Now I see that same couple spending $40 or $45. On the backside of the pandemic, restaurants prices are going to have to rise, industry wide. We just dont know yet by how much.

What beverages will be offered? Several house cocktails, batched punches, spirits, beers, and natural wines, a lot of it based on what Thomas discovered on a trip along the I-55 corridor south, from St. Louis to New Orleans. He found a boutique hard seltzer in New Orleans, for example, and a sweet potato vodka from Delta Dirt, a new distiller in Arkansas.

Will the emphasis be on cocktails, wine, or beer?Thats for the customers to decide. At The Civil Life, we sold way more wine than we ever thought, for example, and that was at one of the best craft breweries in the area.

Do you have plans beyond Chatawa/Grand Pied? To give Chatawa some additional recognition, Id like to sell beignetsand maybe boozy coffee drinksnext year at Tower Grove Farmers Market.

Do you have plans for the future? Id like to run something like a wholesale commissary, not just to supply a single restaurant but several. I already know of several things I could produce that many restaurants and chefs would be interested in. And I dream about buying some land with room for some rescue dogs and a few chickens. Maybe buy a few goats to keep the grass cut low

Go here to read the rest:

A conversation with Tony Collida of Chatawa and the Grand Pied - St. Louis Magazine

Related Posts


Comments are closed.

matomo tracker