Chef Stefan Bowers
Classic tastes, bold flavors and the experience of cuisine
Let’s be frank … Stefan Bowers is one mighty fine chef. You may know him from his time at the 20Nine Restaurant and Wine Bar, where he served as executive chef for three years, or as the former chef de cuisine at the acclaimed Lodge of Castle Hills. But you haven’t experienced the real Stefan Bowers until you’ve dined at FEAST, his latest venture and collaboration with entrepreneur Andrew Goodman, in the heart of King William. Known for its cool décor, small plates and big tastes, FEAST burst onto the San Antonio scene in 2011 and never looked back. Its overnight success can be attributed in great part to chef Stefan’s classic tastes, bold flavors and textures and his desire for his cuisine to be experienced as well as tasted.
Born and raised in Berkeley, Calif., a city at the forefront of the organic food movement, Stefan got his first taste of the now popular “sustainable” culinary food culture at an early age. Following a five-year Navy career as a helicopter rescue swimmer, Stefan dived headfirst into his passion for food. A graduate of the Alain and Marie LeNotre French Culinary Institute in Houston, Stefan and his wife, DanCee, moved to San Antonio in 2004, and Stefan’s culinary career took flight. I caught up with chef Stefan to find out a little more about this foodie icon and what inspires his unique style.
Q: How did you become interested in cooking?
I became interested in cooking simply by having to cook for myself as a kid. My mom was a single parent and always working, so if I was hungry, I cooked. I probably knew by age 12 that I wanted to be a chef, but officially, I decided I wanted to cook for a living immediately after I got married.
Q: From helicopter rescue swimmer to chef du jour seems a big leap. A complicated recipe or easy as pie?
For me, this was a natural decision. I did two six-month carrier deployments and logged 1,000 hours in the back of an HH-60 helicopter, reading cookbooks whenever I had the chance. As for my journey through the ranks of cooking, as anyone else will tell you, it’s been very challenging.
Q: FEAST is often described as an “experience-driven restaurant.” Can you elaborate?
FEAST is a sensory restaurant. The sole owner and proprietor, Andrew Goodman, has an approach toward the industry like no one else I’ve worked with or for. This makes it a 100-percent personal concept. Subsequently, it’s opened the floodgates to my creativity.
Q: Your restaurant and cooking experiences vary from Italy to France to the Eastern Mediterranean and, of course, South Texas. How have your many experiences influenced your personal style?
I’ve always been drawn to cultural foods that seem simple but take a lot of technique. I don’t have an “ethnically rooted” food upbringing, although growing up in the Bay Area gave me a distinct regional viewpoint. I find myself creating based on my instincts rather than cultural ties.
Q: What influences you as a chef?
Most chefs say nature, but that’s second with me. People influence me as a chef! I cook with one goal in mind: to nourish people. Everyone’s life is extremely complex and difficult. I simply want to make and create food that lifts the spirit and fortifies one’s body and mind.
Q: Most people are beans-and-rice, meat-and-potatoes kind of people, meaning we pair certain foods with certain foods. You, on the other hand, are known for pairing food in very unique ways. What are some of your favorite nontraditional pairings?
What’s funny is I can’t answer this question specifically. I’m most concerned about flavor. I’m not a big fan of nuance, little leaves and micro-greens all over the plate. I always try to stay focused on the primary component of a dish and harmonize all the flavors. By trying to understand and observe different food philosophies you can take any idea to a new level.
Q: Sustainable gardening and organic foods are common buzzwords these days. Your thoughts?
I sum up all these buzzwords with two words: quality and local. I love doing business with local farmers and businesses like Farm to Table, which sells sustainable produce, meat and dairy from Texas farmers. We do go out of range for certain things like our seafood. All of our seafood is shipped overnight from a company in Florida specializing in “day-boat” fishing. The quality is unparalleled.
Q: On a personal note, who does the cooking in your house? And do you have a favorite meal?
My wife and I both cook. My favorite meal was anything my late mother-in-law, Julie, would cook for me. Her family owned and operated the original Paloma Blanca for 50 years on Trinity and Guadalupe. Her cooking embodied more love than words can describe.
By Courtney Burkholder
Photos by Casey Howell