Rob Connoley runs Bulrush, a St. Louis restaurant inspired by the culinary traditions of the Ozarks. Off the clock, he’s at his family cabin foraging around for black walnuts and wild berries—and scarfing down smashburgers.
Here’s a look at some of Connoley’s favorite foods, drinks, and tools for when he’s off the clock. — as told to Adam Erace
I could survive in the woods year-round. I forage for mushrooms, acorns, berries. Every June, I gather black walnuts to make nocino, a walnut liqueur from Italy that’s fantastic with nuts and cheese and as an after-dinner sipper. It was one of the first projects that I taught myself. I like the magic of a clear liquor turning black before your eyes, and transforming from jet fuel to an aromatic, sweet drink.
People in the Ozarks learned early on that sorghum grass could be crushed and turned into a sweetener. When it’s first pressed, it’s light and green-tasting and almost citrusy; then as it ages, it becomes heavy and vegetal. At home, I use it in my Ozark Bota mezcal cocktail; the smokiness of the mezcal with the sorghum is really special.
I love making vinegar. I start with Braggs [apple cider vinegar] and add mashed fruit—anything with high moisture content—and cover it with a loose cloth. It sits in the closet for one to three months. You’ll get that sour, fermented smell going in your house, but that’s good. When it’s to your taste, strain it, and you’re good to go.
Recipe Every Man Should Master
If you can master the smashburger, man, you’ve got a quick snack anytime. You need 70 percent lean beef, divided into 2-ounce golf balls. Crank up a cast-iron skillet superhot with half a teaspoon of oil, add a ball, and smash it with a spatula as hard as you can. Hold it down for 30 seconds, then let it go 60 seconds. This is how you get the crisp and crumbly edges, with the fats and the sugars coalescing into an amazing texture. Flip it and cook for 30 more seconds, then add your pickles and cheese.
This book by the James Beard Foundation really addresses the food-waste issue, but in a delicious way. Every single fruit or vegetable peel goes into something else now. I make chawanmushi, a steamed Japanese egg custard, with food-scrap dashi, and fried rice has become a weekly meal.
Essential Cooking Tool
My family has kept a cabin in the Mark Twain National Forest since the 1930s. When I go down there, all I need is my Solingen pocketknife. You can do pretty much everything with it, from cutting down meat to peeling and processing vegetables. I even use the back of the blade to scramble eggs.