A 20-year-old political science major at Southeastern Louisiana University missed his grandmother’s northern Missouri Sunday dinners. He began teaching himself to cook to cure his homesickness for Midwestern, Germanic fare. In the second year of his self-taught experiment, he decided to apply for jobs at restaurants in the New Orleans area. After a year in a professional kitchen, Joshua Smith knew he wanted to be a chef.
Upon graduating with a political science degree, Smith enrolled in a culinary school in New Orleans. There, he received a formal French education in NOLA while working in a modern Cajun restaurant.
Once his formal culinary education was complete, he packed up his knives and headed to Kansas, where he worked as a sous chef at an Italian restaurant. Constantly on a quest to learn more about food, Smith made the life-changing decision to spend a culinary summer in Italy. He fell in love with Italian food and an Italian style of cooking, food preparation and preservation.
“I learned that the reason so much Italian food is what it is in Italy — the reason why it’s just so good — is because they’re focused on using ingredients simply and when they’re in season,” Smith says. “And when they’re not in season, that’s when charcuterie comes in, or salumi in Italian.”
Smith brought this Italian culinary ideology with him when he returned to the United States. His appreciation of local ingredients with a farm-to-table philosophy led him to open a restaurant in New Orleans in 2009. The restaurant was well-received, and in 2010, the James Beard Foundation nominated Smith as a semifinalist for “Rising Star Chef” and “Best New Restaurant.”
But Smith still missed the Show-Me State, and when he met and fell in love with a girl from mid-Missouri, the pair decided to head north to be closer to their families and to start one of their own. His farm-to-table philosophy received a warm welcome at Sycamore, where he worked as a charcuterie chef for a year.
In January, Smith’s personal culinary journey found a new destination at Les Bourgeois Vineyards’ Blufftop Bistro, where he works as executive chef. Smith is excited for the opportunity to embrace mid-Missouri’s comforting and eclectic food culture by pairing seasonal, local ingredients with the winery’s regional wines.
“The notion of what grows together goes together is an old-school wine philosophy,” Smith says. “We’re trying to do our best to pay homage to that fact at the bistro and do our best to support what’s going on locally on every aspect. That’s what I’m all about.”
Smith and Les Bourgeois’ CEO Curtis Bourgeois have had several preliminary discussions about getting serious about the farm-to-table philosophy. The winery has property it might utilize for growing ingredients that could be used at the bistro in the future, but that’s part of the long-term conversation about serving local ingredients at Les Bourgeois, he says.
The chef pairs his passion for ingredients, flavors and menu with his obsession for the palate, flavor profiles and wine pairings. His primary goal at the Blufftop Bistro, he says, is to create the best overall culinary experience for every guest at the bistro, from fine-dining foodies to meat-and-potato lovers.
“Les Bourgeois has their wine, and they’re awesome wines,” he says. “And finding out how to enhance the experience and not lessen the wine with the food you create can be a challenge, but I think chefs are drawn to challenging situations.”
He’s up for the challenge. Always learning, Smith is poring over books to continue his career-long quest for more knowledge about flavor profiles, culinary trends and recipes.
“I’m a wine nerd in addition to a food nerd, and I would definitely call myself a nerd in those categories,” he says. “Food and wine are my obsessions. They’re inseparable to me, but I love them both.”