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Faced With Obstacles, These 2 St. Louis Chefs Are Finding Success During The Pandemic

Chefs Juwan Rice (at left) and Justin McMillen will join Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air" to delve into their culinary journeys.
Izaiah Johnson
Sauce Magazine
Chefs Juwan Rice (at left) and Justin McMillen will join Thursday's "St. Louis on the Air" to delve into their culinary journeys.

The pandemic has had a major impact on restaurants but the challenges it’s created has not prevented two local chefs from getting recognition in Sauce Magazine’s latest issue.

Sauce executive editor Meera Nagarajan explained how this year’s list looked a little different: “We look at our ‘Ones to Watch’ list sometimes for years, and people will stay on our radar and we'll just kind of follow them along and see what they're up to,” she said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“So [the people on this year’s list], when we first started watching them, they were doing something totally different. And where they landed now is a little bit of a growth pattern that we've been paying attention to … and we think they're all doing incredibly amazing and different things.”

Two of the honorees joined host Sarah Fenske to delve into their culinary journeys.

Juwan Rice revamped JR’s Gourmet, a business he started when he was only 14 years old. As a result of that, the teen chef also established Feeding the Frontline, a crowdfunded service project that made meals for frontline workers and now — teachers.

“It was very encouraging for me, just to see how impactful something as simple as a meal could go along and brighten up someone's week,” Rice said.

After spending about three years in California, chef Justin McMillen returned to St. Louis in May last year. While out west, he helped open SingleThread Farms, a restaurant that received three Michelin stars, a high honor in the food industry.

McMillen is now the director of culinary operations for the Niche Food Group. He immediately started working on trying to safely reopen the restaurants. He’s using his past expertise at SingleThread, as well as St. Louis’ Sidney Street Cafe and Overlook Farms, to thread together Niche Food Group’s eclectic offerings that cover Italian, French, Brazilian and American cuisines.

“Don't be afraid to pivot and be creative ... just think outside the box,” he said. “During this time, people want so many different things — they just don't know it yet. And you're just trying to intrigue everyone to come eat at your restaurant, or to get takeout, and feel that sense of security and comfort from your food.”

“I honestly believe that culinary is one of the biggest attributes to the creative industry that gets overlooked. And so hence the term ‘culinary arts,’ because it is an art form for people like me and Justin. We're creating edible art,” Rice said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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