“I tried to escape the restaurant world by going to law school, but it was the pits,” says Kevin Nashan, the Illinois-born, New Mexico-bred, James Beard-nominated chef behind Sidney Street Cafe and the newly opened Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. in St. Louis. “I was meant to cook, I just didn’t know it was in my DNA until I was force-fed it at the Culinary Institute of America, where I fell in love with the kitchen instantly.”

After graduating from the other CIA (you know, the Carrie Mathison one), Nashan’s Hispanic grandfather opened the restaurant La Tertulia, a vibrant hacienda in Santa Fe. A young Nashan spent a good amount of time washing dishes, but he also got experience in all aspects of kitchen life—all while developing a deep appreciation for the chile-inflected cuisine of New Mexico.

Once he realized he wanted restaurants to be his fate after all, Nashan kicked off his career with an internship in New Orleans at Commander’s Palace. Chicago and the great chef Roland Laccioni of La Français beckoned next. Perhaps Nashan’s most “important step” was venturing to Spain, where he mistakenly thought he had secured a stage at Santi Santamaria’s El Racó de Can Fabes. “I knew I had to find something else, so I went through the Michelin guidebook and kept contacting restaurants,” the Nashan remembers. “Martín Berasategui, in San Sebastian, brought me on, and I stumbled upon a year’s worth of learning. I also got to stage at elBulli—before it was popular.”

I opened the Peacemaker with selfish intention. What did I want to eat at the end of day?

His European sojourn was rewarded with a job in the kitchen of Daniel, but he soon left New York for on-the-rise St. Louis, where he and wife Mina took over Sidney Street Café. Eleven years later, they’ve transformed the Benton Park restaurant into an icon of the region—a destination for dishes like Carolina-style BBQ sweetbreads and pea-filled pierogi with caramelized crème fraîche that embody Nashan’s playful, globally-inspired modern American cuisine. The Peacemaker, an ode to both the humble seafood shack and the nomadic Acadians who migrated to Louisiana from Maine, turns out buttery lobster rolls, po’boys, and freshly shucked oysters.

“I opened the Peacemaker with selfish intentions,” Nashan admits. “What did I want to eat at the end of day? Not a fancy meal. It’s not less work—I could argue that it’s even more—but it’s about figuring out how to cook yummy food and keep the lights on in a fun atmosphere.”

Nashan has certainly solved the conundrum. From childhood bowls of fiery pozole to David Kinch’s graceful assembly of vegetables, the energetic chef—and multiple Ironman vet—recalls 10 of the dishes that celebrate his diverse cultural heritage and far-flung travels.

Pozole with Hatch Green Chile


Some kids grow up with porridge, but since I was in diapers I was having red and green chiles. At my family’s restaurant there is one dish among many that stood out and it’s the pozole with hatch green chile. It was a sort of benchmark of simplicity and comfort. It didn’t matter if it was two or 90 degrees outside, it was one of those things we had three or four times a week. (Photo: James Ransom/Food52)

Mom’s Empanaditas


Kind of an empanada, kind of a pierogi, my mom made empanaditas every year at Christmas. They were shaped like a half moon and she filled them with deer meat, beef tongue, applesauce, molasses, pine nuts, and sherry. She always deep fried them. They brought our big family together, so it showed me the importance of tradition. I saw all the meat stewing, but she never told us what it was, and I never really asked. (Photo: Food Network)

Daniel Boulud’s Artichoke Barigoule


In 1997, a group of Culinary Institute of America students all saved our money to eat at Daniel. It had been a long year and we wanted to treat ourselves to a celebration dinner. To this day, it’s one of my favorite meals of all time. But what stood out in particular was the artichoke barigoule. It was the first time I had experienced an unsung vegetable that way. It was one of those points in my life where I was like, ‘I have to work with this guy.’ Lucky for me, he let me in, and it was amazing. (Photo: Daniel Krieger)

Paella in Spain


When I lived and worked in Spain for a year, I came across paella, a dish I thought was familiar with. But it wasn’t until a friend’s family made it for me on an open fire that I realized how much technique went into it. It was communal, complex, fun, and downright delicious. My favorite bites were the ones from the side of the pan that were full of flavor, and both crispy and soft. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Scallops at Martín Berasategui (Lasarte-Oria, Spain)


I will never forget my first scallop in the shell, when my sous chef, David, had me shuck it out. It was pulsating in my hand and then he said to eat it. It was so sweet, clean, and briny. You think you have an idea of what a food is, and then you taste something like this and you realize you’ve had impostors your whole life. If everyone ate this scallop, they’d never want to eat another kind. (Photo: Food Nutrition Table)

Grandma’s Pierogies


My dad is German and Polish, and we would spend summers in Chicago, where my grandmother would make all these amazing meals for family gatherings. She could have bought them, but she wanted to make her pierogies by hand. My favorite was stuffed with shredded pork and caramelized onions, oozing out garlic potatoes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Roland Liccioni’s French Onion Soup


Liccioni was my main mentor. He took me in, showed me everything, and was meticulous in the kitchen. His French onion soup at Le Français is the cornerstone of my career because it taught me patience and discipline. I had to make it every day, the onions had to be sweated in a certain way, and it was just a pain in the ass. But after a few weeks I grew to love it and it wasn’t laborious anymore. My goal was to make it better each time. You have to understand a dish completely before you can move on. (Photo: lesnomades.net)

John Shields’ Chilled Vegetable “Minestrone”


I skipped it this year because I was opening the Peacemaker, but for five years in a row I have had this tradition of staging at a different restaurant on my birthday. One year I did it at Town House, in Chilhowie, VA, and it was just incredible to find that caliber of food in the middle of nowhere. It would be easy to say that John’s minestrone was just another soup dish, but he stacked maybe 14 different types of vegetables with different textures in a pickled broth. Like Michel Bras’ gargouillou, he took such an elegant approach that stood out. (Photo: Starchefs)

Grilled Whole Redfish at Pêche Seafood Grill (New Orleans, LA)


This was a recent meal, maybe about a year and a half ago, and it was similar to eating at Etxebarri in Spain. It showed me how embers can make a fish I have eaten all my life taste that much better. You eat out all the time, and then you taste something like this, charred and so clean underneath, and it just hits you. (Photo: Peche/Facebook)

Into the Vegetable Garden at Manresa (Los Gatos, CA)


I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Manresa four or five times, and David Kinch nails it every time. He’s a cook’s cook, and what he does to vegetables—like in this dish, where there are over 30 of them, all so clean and with different textures—well, it makes you wonder why you do things the way you do. He always makes it look so simple. This dish made me want to be a better cook. (Photo: Manresa: An Edible Reflection, Ten Speed Press)