Smoked Trout Dip with Chèvre
Kevin Willmann, Chef/owner, Farmhaus, St. Louis, MO
Hometown: Greenville, Illinois/Pensacola, Florida
Despite the fact his acclaimed Farmhaus Restaurant is in landlocked St. Louis, Willmann is a diehard fisherman (the result of his Floridian childhood). When he’s not trolling Missouri’s lakes and streams for freshwater fish, Willmann is reeling in many of the local cheeses for his playful, regional menu.
culture: How does cheese relate to your menu at Farmhaus?
Kevin Willmann: It’s a big part of what we do. We use a lot of local cheeses. The terroir here is fantastic—you can really taste it in the local cheeses, so I try not to do too much to them. Maybe just serve them with some preserves we’ve put up, or house-made lavash.
culture: You come from a family of farmers, as well, right?
Kevin Willmann: Yes. My grandfather actually has a farm a mile from Marcoot, in Illinois, and my great-grandfather had a dairy farm—I can remember visiting as a kid and drinking the raw milk. My father and uncles are still cash-crop farmers in southern Illinois. Because I grew up surrounded by food at its source, I wanted Farmhaus to be fiercely local, to thrive on its relationships with farmers, cheesemakers, and ranchers.
culture: Fish figures prominently on your menu (indeed, while I interviewed him, Willman carried on effortlessly cleaning and filleting a case of pompano). How did you get hooked?
Kevin Willmann: When I was 12, we moved to Pensacola, Florida, and I fell in love with fishing. When I was a teenager, I started working on fishing boats, then delivering fish to local restaurants. Eventually, I started working with chef Frank Taylor of Jubilee, and he became my mentor. We still fish together when we can, and when I’m not near saltwater, I fish for bass and catfish here in Missouri.
culture: Are you a believer in the rule about not pairing cheese with seafood?
Kevin Willmann: Nope. We do, for example, a butter- and wine-poached red snapper with sheep’s milk feta and preserved tomatoes, finished under the broiler. We also do a scallop gratin with Parmigiano or American Grana Padano.
culture: If you were a cheese, what would you be?
Kevin Willmann: Well, our goal at Farmhaus is to be unpretentious. So cottage cheese, because it’s unassuming.
Kevin Willmann: Hell no!
Smoked Trout Dip with Chèvre
At his restaurant Willmann makes this recipe with house-smoked grouper collars and cheeks; we use smoked trout for convenience.
THE OIL: Combine the paprika and oil in a liquid measuring cup, then strain through a coffee filter into a clean container. Set aside.
THE DIP: Heat the oven to 350°F. Put the sweet potato on a baking sheet, and season with salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix with your hands to coat. Roast until fully caramelized—about 25 minutes—and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions, and cook until they are deep brown and fully caramelized, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
Using a standing or handheld mixer, whip chèvre until it’s light and fluffy, then slowly add ¼ cup smoked paprika oil, continuing to whip until the cheese mixture is airy. Fold in the onions, sweet potato, fish, and salt to taste. Serve.