Friday, August 19, 2022

Chaumette tops USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice awards

Having already won many awards for its wines and wedding services, Chaumette Vineyards in Ste. Genevieve County has topped itself this time around — taking first in the Best Winery Restaurant for 2022 in the USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice travel awards.

Chaumette snagged the honor by placing ahead of restaurants in Virginia, Washington State, Oregon, Texas and California. A panel of experts worked with the 10 Best editors to decide the initial 20 choices and the top 10 were determined by popular vote.

Noting that there was a 30-day period over which people could cast ballots on the top contenders, Chaumette Winery owner Hank Johnson said, “We really have people from all over the country coming here,” he said. “We let people know that this was going on. We received the notice that said, ‘Congratulations! You’re number one.’ Needless to say, my executive chef’s feet were not on the floor.

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Chaumette tops USA Today 10 Best Readers' Choice awards

Pictured is Chaumette Executive Chef Rob Beasley.

Mark Marberry

“We are truly pleased with the food he puts out. It’s different than any place we have been. A lot of times at a restaurant for a winery, they do informal kinds of things. But that stuff that he makes, we just love. It’s very good and different.”

Johnson said he has no idea of ​​how he came to the attention of the food experts at USA Today.

“There was a team of experts that nominated us and we were not aware of any of them coming here,” he said. “They didn’t say they were here, they just said that this team nominated us.”

The story of Chaumette began in 1990 when Johnson and his wife bought the 310-acres as a getaway from St. Louis on the weekends.

“There was nothing here but the old house,” he said. “We built a lake and camped out and entertained friends. In 1992, we planted our first grapes. I continued my study of viticulture and planted more vines every year until 2000 when I bought my first winemaking equipment. In 2001, I hired my first winemaker and he made a lot of wine and we had to have a place to sell it. We built a building. The first thing I said was we won’t go in the restaurant business because of all the horror stories about that.

“Of course, people came and said they were hungry. We had to go into the restaurant business. After a year or so, people came to me with their glasses and said they would like to have another glass of this wonderful wine, but they have to drive; we had no place to stay. That gave rise to the Villages at Chaumette.”

A restaurant that receives a first-in-the-nation award requires a top executive chef and Chaumette has Rob Beasley to fill that bill of fare. A Louisiana native, Beasley’s Creole roots influence a lot of his gastronomic creations at Chaumette.

A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in 1983, Beasley worked and traveled around the country, having restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City. Eight years ago, Beasley moved to Chaumette and set up his kitchen.

An early adopter of what he calls farm to table, Beasley prefers to buy fresh products from local farms a much as possible, something he admits is a challenge with the limited growing season in the area.

Chaumette tops USA Today 10 Best Readers' Choice awards

The Grapevine Grill on the right is pictured along with the new winery being built to replace the winery that was destroyed by fire in July 2021.

Mark Marberry

“Here, it is nice because we will have people stay the weekend and eat here five to six times,” he said. “We try to keep the menu small enough to execute well, but try to keep it diverse enough to have something for almost anybody. We have our regular menu, but we always do multiple features, basing them on what’s available.”

Beasley says that they always keep prime grade grass-fed beef and have fresh seafood shipped in overnight. “I just got fresh Diver Scallops from Maine that we’ll run this weekend,” he said.

As executive chef, Beasley says he has 100% control of the restaurant and they have developed an incredible “small” team that brings his ideas together.

“The shortest term person that has worked with me in the kitchen is my son who has been here five years,” he said. “Matt, our sous chef, worked for me in St. Louis as well. We have worked together for 11 years. My wife and I have worked together for nine years. Gabe works saute, and has worked for me off and on for over 30 years. Tim runs the front of our house and is magnificent and has been here as long as I have. For events and weddings, I have friends from St. Louis and other places come in to help us.

“We try to buy the best product that makes it easiest to do our best job and we treat it with care and work incredibly well together. We balance each other out well. We set really high standards. I’m bringing in big guns, guys that are well seasoned and trained and can do anything to help us. We are only good as the last plate.”

In summary, Beasley said it is heartwarming to be recognized for that award.

“It speaks volumes for our whole staff,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, it’s not a personal win for me; it speaks to the effort we make as a team.”

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at [email protected]

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