Inside Columbia Magazine July IC : Page 143

Dining Out 07.09 Specialty Of The House Les Bourgeois’ Ben Clay Finds Inspiration In The ‘Other White Meat’ C BY LAUREN KILBERG • PHOTO BY L.G. PATTERSON Cooking is not something Ben Clay always wanted to do. Yet it’s exactly what he has been doing since he was 8. Born in Germany and raised in Cape Girardeau, Clay began his education in the culinary arts at home in his family’s kitchen. He learned to cook both German and Southern cuisine under the instruction of his mother and grandmother. His culinary roots showed this past January when Clay received highest honors at the Mid-Missouri Taste of Elegance competition. His award-winning entry was a plateful of mouth-watering dishes: Vignoles-Braised Pork Osso Bucco, Chinese Black Rice with Winter Squash, and Five-Spiced Pig Ear Coriander Salad. The prestigious event was sponsored by the Missouri Pork Association and is a subset of the National Taste of Elegance competition, for which Clay’s honors earned him a spot at in June. Pork is Clay’s favorite ingredient. “It’s a versatile kind of meat that you can do a lot with,” he says. “It really brings me back to my roots.” Second to the “other white meat,” fish is another favorite choice. “It’s a more delicate protein,” he says, “so you have to give it a little more love — more finesse when cooking with it.” Clay has been cooking professionally since he arrived in Columbia in 1999. He started out working at the Cherry Street Wine Cellar, where he was quickly promoted to lead chef. In 2002, Clay expanded his culinary education and enrolled at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. Before returning to Columbia, he completed two internships at Sweet Basil in Vail, Colo. Clay is now executive chef of Blufftop Bistro at Les Bourgeois Vineyards where he has worked since 2005. He takes pride in the restaurant’s kitchen. “The work ethic is really high,” he says. “Everyone there has a super strong passion for food.” It’s clear why morale is so high in Clay’s kitchen: he leads by example. “The more you enjoy your job the more you enjoy going to it,” he says. “I treat it as a lifelong passion of mine.” It shows; the proof is in the pork. ■ Cooking with pork takes Clay back to his culinary roots. < INSIDE COLUMBIA July 2009 143

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