A new executive chef is in charge at Schlafly Bottleworks. Bernard Pilon comes to Maplewood after 17 years as executive chef at Norwood Hills Country Club, Faust’s at the Adam’s Mark Hotel before that, then restaurants in D.C, Club Med in the Caribbean, and various restaurants in his home town of Montreal.
His career in a kitchen began as a dishwasher at a country club in Montreal when he was in school. “They needed a dishwasher and I needed a job,” he said recently in an interview at Blueprint Coffee in University City.
That lasted three summers and by the second season he was starting to cook and pre-cook. “I realized it was OK,” he said. He kept it up to pay the bills when he started university and rose through the ranks. At age 21 he was offered an executive chef position. Though he had considered being a German translator (he speaks four languages) he decided maybe he could make it a career.
Recently with two kids in college (his wife is a pastry chef at The Daily Bread) thinking of what’s next, working at a brewery came to mind — he got a call from the Bottleworks.
“What appealed to me about Schlafly is that it’s iconic but still very approachable for a micro-brewery. The beers are very approachable,” he said. “I’m going to be working on different tastes. I’ll make that happen as I move along — create a landscape that everyone can embrace.”
Pilon said a chef has to have a strong personality, but is against being heavy-handed. “I’ve never wanted to go home thinking people were afraid of me,” he said. “It’s not about me. It’s really about my co-workers — my chefs behind the line. They’re the ones who deserve all the credit. They’re the ones who are going to be executing my devious plans.”
He said chefs, through the culinary arts, create culture. “That’s a big weight on their shoulders,” he said. “It’s almost, to a certain aspect, one of the last safe havens to be communal. You don’t need a metal detector to go into a restaurant. Everywhere you go now there’s an itinerary of fear before you get to the event. Restaurants are still safe havens.”
There’s a game he’s played since it’s been possible to search on the internet. He comes up an an unlikely pairing then tries it out, and then looks it up to see if it’s been done before; lately it was beer and vinegar. He said someone told him on Twitter it was done in the 1700s.
“I”m very analytic. I pour over things until I get them right. I’ve always been very technique driven,” he said. “Been thinking about beer fermentation, chemistry. If it doesn’t work I move on. That’s the fun of being in the industry. The epiphanies you can go through all day in the kitchen — the aha moments — all under the guise of the pressure of people coming all the time.
“I’ve always wanted to do things that are exciting but also fun for everyone. You work hard, very hard, but at the end of the day you want to create an atmosphere that everyone wants to be in.”
There’s no menu change yet. “We are in the throes of making plans to max,” Pilon said. “The use of the garden and plan ahead for the next several months will certainly affect the menu which I am working on as we speak. Hopefully by end of September we will have something in place!”