Eat STL: J. Devoti Trattoria

| Producer

Illustration by Jordan Rossi

In many ways, food is more than just sustenance. It inspires conversations, holds cultural importance, and tells the chef’s story. Student Life Producer Emily Talkow presents Eat STL, a new series that profiles chefs in the St. Louis community. In this episode, Talkow visits J. Devoti Trattoria located on The Hill, St. Louis’ historic Italian neighborhood.


You can listen to episode 1 of Eat St. Louis on Spotify or Apple Music.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.


EMILY TALKOW (0:00-0:04): Before the episode begins, please note there will be some cursing or other expletives. 


ANOTHONY DEVOTI (0:05-0:35) I think like this little thing now of doing the cooking really by myself and really kind of getting back, back to cooking. You know, like I, that’s, I guess, sounds kind of cheesy, but like you kinda get back to cooking and getting back into making all the pasta doughs and you know, it’s not like, hey, uh, Emily make the pasta dough and then I will roll it out. And it’s, now it’s every single thing passes through my hands and it means a lot like it’s- If somebody says something fucking stupid about your food, like, you know, shit really hurts man.   


(Interlude music


ET (0:39-0:49): I’m Emily Talkow and you’re listening to Eat St. Louis, a Student Life Production. Today you’ll hear Chef Anthony Devoti of J. Devoti discuss with utmost honesty, his take on the food industry. 


AD (0:54-0:57): Anthony Devoti. The Chef and Owner of J. Devoti Trattoria. 


ET (0:58-1:47): J. Devoti is over by the hill. This restaurant has a special place in my heart: My freshman year at WashU, for basically every meal I ate at the dining hall on the South 40, affectionately known as BD. For the large majority of my meals, I paid for my food with the same woman, Barbara. As the year went on, we got to know each other from talking almost every day. By the end of the year, we grew so close that we were determined to “taste the world” and try different restaurants in St. Louis together. So we went to Peacemaker in Soulard to experience Maine, and then Brasserie in the Central West End to experience France, and one of my absolute favorites, J. Devoti where we experienced Italy. So talking to Anthony gave me an even greater sense of the behind the scenes at one of my most heartfelt St. Louis restaurants. We began by talking about how he got involved in the food industry. 


AD (1:46-1:55): I like to cook and I like to travel. So I was like, oh, you can do, everybody needs to eat and travel and stuff. It all fits very good together, you know? 


ET (1:55-1:58): Was there like an event that sparked that or just a general interest? 


AD (1:58-2:23) I think just a general interest. I think that kind of going through like getting ready to go to college and I didnt wanna go to college, like I, it just was not my deal. I was good with school. I liked school, like I enjoyed school, but I like seeing my friends is what I really liked, you know. So I traveled, went to Europe, and then came home and was like, All right, I’m gonna, I’m gonna pursue cooking like after school. That was my deal. 


ET (2:23-2:33): Anthony had been working in restaurants, busing tables and washing dishes, since he was 16. And then there was a point where he got serious about wanting to be a chef. But he explains that at the time…


AD (2:33-2:54): Not a lot of people were like driven to be chefs. Like there was a lot of people who maybe worked at Hardee’s, let’s say and McDonald’s, and they, if they finished a course they got a raise, or if they finished this they got a raise. So you were in culinary school with a lot of people who were just maybe going to for a little bit of career advancement, not necessarily to be a really really good chef. Like that was my thing.


ET (2:54-2:58): So to get serious about cooking, Anthony moved from St Louis to…


AD (2:58- 3:25):  New York City. I lived there for a couple. And I went to culinary school there and I worked at La Tour, uh, it was the, where I did my apprenticeship and studied. Uh, moved back to St. Louis, uh, did some kind of line, cook things for a minute and then like kind of pursued being a chef and like going after sous chef jobs. So I did that for a couple of years. So I moved San Francisco. So I lived in San Francisco for a couple years and then moved from there back to St. Louis to open it was Five Bistro at the time.


ET (3:25-3:41): So Anthony started off, what is now J. Devoti, over at the Grove. He explained that the Grove back then is not what the Grove is today. It was pretty unsafe and not a lot of businesses were there. They moved to the Hill, where they are now, and explains how the restaurant plateaued for a year. 


AD (3:41-4:15): I mean, we were doing good money and it was very predictable and whatever, whatever and everybody got fucking boring, like, and this is, like, this business is too, it can, is so boring if you let like, the same menus all the time. It’s monotonous and it’s shitty and it’s not real cooking. You know, We were always, I mean, I was always changing the menus and stuff, but it was just like nothing new was happening. A lot of the fun stuff that I used to do. I don’t really do anymore. I don’t go to farmer’s markets. We weren’t really getting any new business. The people in the neighborhood, I don’t even think knew that we were here. You know, there’s a lot of people I think today who still don’t know whether we’re here.


ET (4:15-4:19): As a result of this monotony, they switched things up a bit.


AD (4:19-4:26): And so we changed to kind of make it more Italian. Like we started doing more pizzas and pastas and we make everything in house. 


ET (4:26-4:31): I thought this was super interesting. I also admire Anthony’s commitment to farm-to-table-food in spite of the hassle and the costs.


AD (4:31-5:10): That’s the way we’ve all I like since I’ve started, that was my thing, you know, it’s like, uh, that’s what we’re gonna do. That’s how you eat. That’s, I’ve always kind of said, that’s being a proper chef, you know, knowing where your food comes from. Cooking your food, you know, uh, there’s a lot to be said by yanking stuff out of the freezer and tossing it in the fryer, you know, that’s not cooking, you know? No mixing and mashing and you know, with some sort of xanthan  gum, you know, to bind, you know what I mean? Like none of that crap.  The vegetable can do its thing. It’s there, it’s beautiful. Let it fucking work for you.


ET (5:10-5:15): I was also super curious about how Anthony breaks down the monotony that he mentioned earlier. 


AD (5:15-5:39): So now I do other stuff, build tables, uh, make rolling pins, uh, do a lot of woodworking. I like woodworking. Um, I’ve always loved to garden, so, gardening has always been a part of what we’ve done here. I love that style. Putting it in the ground, tomato ripening, whatever it is, and just watching it grow and do its thing and then picking it, eating it. And that’s, that’s cooking like through and through. 


ET (5:39-5:42):We then moved on to talking about the practicality of finding passion in work. 


AD (5:42-6:13): I would’ve to say like, if you have to sit there and think about it without being like, yes. You know? Yeah, it’s fading for sure. I don’t mean like, and not in a negative way. This business is really fucking hard. Like it’s really hard day in and day out. And I started when I was 15 and I’m 44. And then in all honesty, like I have a great crew. I do. But to get to this point of having a great crew, there was a lot of shitheads that came through the door, like proper shit heads. 


ET (6:13-6:19): Anthony then talked about the impact of COVID on the food industry. COVID hit, and people realized they…


AD (6:19-6:38): could join a carpenters union? And labor and work just as hard as I am now, but have weekends off, have nights off, get healthcare like, so the restaurant business totally shot themselves in the foot by treating people like shit for a hundred years.


ET (6:38-6:44): What, what keeps you here? If, if there’s a lot of shit and really hard aspects of it. Why? Why do you come to work every day?


AD (6:44-7:11): Oh, I mean, I love it and I it, I love it. And I’m at the point too that, I mean, in all honesty, I make good money. We’re doing good. Like, you know, I remember I had, I had an interview when we were in HR and you have to do like two weeks of fucking bs, you know, that they do in corporate world. But I was there and I remember the lady going, Why are you here? And I remember one of the other, he was another sous chef that we had gotten hired on at the same time. He’s like “cuz I love it” and the lady’s like  “bullshit , you’re here to make a paycheck.”


ET (7:11-7:34): I thought this was funny and so true, that even when you find things monotonous and hard to stand, if the love is there, the love is there. And at the end of the day, you also do need to bring home a paycheck. Anthony and I moved on to talking about family, his kids, and what he cooks at home when he’s not working. We even got into guilty pleasure foods, that even he as a renowned chef indulges in. 


AD (7:35-8:05): As chefs, we talk about stuff that we’re like totally into, you know, that is like, just mainstream like crap. Like I love Eggo waffles, and I make awesome waffles. Like I can make mean waffle, but I do fucking love an Eggo. Like, there’s just like, but that’s like, I guess food memory, right? Like, reminds me of being a little kid. This time of year, um, Reese’s Pumpkins. That are like the buttercup, right? That are, it’s the best like peanut butter to chocolate ratio that they make.


(outro music) 


ET (8:05-8:22): Thank you so much to Chef Anthony Devoti for taking the time to talk with me today. Stay tuned for future episodes of Eat St. Louis. In the meantime, head to to check out our current issue and other recent stories. For Student Life Media, I’m Emily Talkow.


Music rights reserved for Kevin MacLeod

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