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Springfield, MO

Hickory Hills Country Club executive chef
Hickory Hills Country Club executive chef

2017 Culinary Outlook: Melinda Burrows

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Thirty-two year culinary veteran and Seattle native Melinda Burrows is helping build local authenticity as the Queen City establishes its culinary identity. She leans on experiences as a personal/traveling chef for singers Paul McCartney and Phil Collins.

2017 Projection: A focus on real food and recognizable cuisine that’s packaged a bit differently. “Chicken is chicken, pork is pork, lamb is lamb. How do you manipulate it to create something different?”

SBJ: What’s Springfield’s culinary identity? Do we have one?
Melinda Burrows: As an outsider, what I try to do is expose my people, the members, to new experiences. They are traveled and have eaten at Michelin star restaurants. I’m trying to provide them with authentic, real food. That’s where I would like to believe Springfield is going. You get discouraged when you still see cars turning into McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A. That’s not real food. I think it’s moving back to people more concerned about where their food is coming from. Really, the whole farm to table experience, I think that’s the growth. I think Springfield needs to be able to figure out what it’s going to be authentic at.

SBJ: How can Springfield diversify food offerings?
Burrows: We have the advantage of all the farm-raised products. We have the access to all the dairies, the pork and so on. I was contacted recently by a company who raised geese and bought our Christmas goose from that local farmer. I think it’s the awareness factor, too. One thing I teach my staff is to respect the food. Respect what comes in, how you handle it and the process. That was a live creature and that means something.

SBJ: Why are restaurants rotating in and out of downtown Springfield so often?
Burrows: I think a restaurant loses its identity when they start doing other things that really have nothing to do with the first creation of what they were about.

The other thing is, we may be selling food, but customer service is an old, tried and true thing. That’s what you are selling and you happen to have XYZ products to go with that.

SBJ: Culinary trends – what stood out in 2016 and what’s next?
Burrows: I would say we continue the organic, the non-GMO movement. I think there is going to be more of a focus on the local factor, being more self-sufficient. Being able to bone out a whole fish or break down a whole side of pork. Part of that is getting to the younger kids, if there is a way to connect chefs with kids and establish that relationship. There are some great programs locally. (Ozarks Technical Community College) is fabulous. (College of the Ozarks) is an accredited American Culinary Federation school. We are really lucky with that.

SBJ: What’s next in the farm to table movement?
Burrows: I’ve read about the pop-ups and the progressive dinners. To me, that tells me Springfield people are interested in – and willing to spend money, because those dinners aren’t cheap – another level of food. They want to be wowed, they want to go to somebody’s home or a warehouse space downtown set up to do this cool, once-in-a-lifetime thing.

SBJ: Food trucks – a staple or passing fad?
Burrows: In Springfield, that was something I thought about as a possibility when I came here. But the (return on investment) on it, there’s not a lot of return. Are you willing to stay up to 2 or 3 in the morning to feed college kids who are wasted? I think that definitely has its place.

SBJ: Springfield has a handful of breweries now, could that catch on?
Burrows: Artisan beer is something that won’t go away. With the younger folks, microbrews have a place – and the food to go with that, too. In the drink space, it seems to me Springfield people are willing to spend money on coffee. They’ll pay $5 a cup. I’d like to see something like that explode more, the boutique roasters. I’d like to see less Starbucks on the corner and more of something different.

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