Karen Hoffman, executive chef at Cielo

Every plant growing in Karen Hoffman’s vegetable and herb garden was seed planted. She brought the seeds with her from California when she moved to St. Louis in November; Karen is very particular about her produce. In the kitchens of the Four Seasons Hotel, the Executive Chef is just as particular; the proof is on the plate.

The Arch and St. Louis skyline view from Cielo restaurant has drawn many first time diners to the elegant 80 seat dining room which opened only five months ago. It is Karen Hoffman’s menu that has been bringing them back and creating the buzz that the food tops the view.

Menu approval for a Four Seasons restaurant is an elaborate, lengthy, and intense affair. Of it, Karen said: “I had fun! It was kind of like Iron Chef where they ask: What were you thinking when you were preparing this dish?” For three days, her kitchen team prepared one plate of every item on the proposed (breakfast, then lunch, then dinner) menu for presentation, six banquet tables’ worth of food!

Each dish was then made for tasting by the “jury” which included the Four Seasons’ corporate food and beverage director, the regional general manager, and, from the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, Food and Beverage Director Robert Jenny and General Manager Thierry Kennel (who just happens to be a member of the elite international gastronomical club, Chaine des Rotisseurs.) Karen was thrilled that each gentleman had a very educated palate; she loved listening to them while they were eating.

As a female chef in a male dominated field, Karen believes that her gender has never been a factor in either the support she’s been given or the ways in which the Four Seasons has promoted her from position to position and location to location since 1992. The chicken or the egg question is: Did the corporate selection of Karen Hoffman to be the Executive Chef at the new St. Louis Four Seasons Hotel precede the corporate decision to have a contemporary Italian restaurant with a view of the Arch? Italian is Karen’s native cuisine; she was raised in Chicago by an Italian mother who loved to cook.

The years Cielo’s chef spent in San Francisco solidified what she believes about food. “People say to me, Karen, there are only three things on the plate but it tastes fantastic! Amazing things can happen when you don’t fuss with the ingredients; that’s what I teach the cooks in my kitchen.” The two recipes Karen is sharing with Ladue News readers are a testament to that philosophy.

These classic Italian recipes will be familiar to anyone who has dined at Cielo and enjoyed their dramatic “bread and butter” service. The bread basket is dominated by the Carte de Musica, a large long thin cracker, and the tomato battuto is served in a chartreuse green glass bowl along with extra virgin olive oil, from Italy, of course.

Carte de Musica

1 cup Water

2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 1/2 cups Flour

1 tsp. Honey

1 tsp. Salt

Sea Salt to taste

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for brushing

Mix all ingredients together with a dough hook for 3 minutes on low speed; then increase to medium speed for 1 minute. Form into two balls, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour. Roll out each ball until very thin and stretch out onto a cookie sheet. Brush with oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cut into long rectangles with pizza cutter and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 10 minutes


1 cup Oil Marinated Sun Dried Tomatoes

1 bunch Fresh Basil (leaves only)

1 bunch Fresh Italian Parsley (leaves only)

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

Salt & Pepper

Drain tomatoes and put in a food processor.

Add basil and parsley leaves and pulse to incorporate ingredients. Do not over mix. Mixture should still a have a slightly chunky texture. Finish with aged balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Ceilo, located on the eighth floor of the Four Seasons, is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Call 314/881-5800 for reservations.

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