Chef Lou Rook III got his start in the restaurant business in childhood, when he started working at his father’s root beer stand. The family eventually opened a catering company and a fine-dining restaurant, where Rook learned the ropes of the business. He went away to school at University of Missouri, but still came back home during breaks to man the stoves.
“When I went back to Mizzou after the first year, I had to decide whether to be a football coach and a teacher, or go into the restaurant business,” Rook says. “I loved every part of the business, but I also loved teaching and football.”
Luckily for the St. Louis dining scene, Rook chose to be a chef. He graduated with a degree in food service and lodging management, and then attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Eventually, Rook went on to do a stint at Cardwell’s in Clayton, had his own restaurant, Grappa, in the Central West End and helped open Harry’s downtown before heading to Annie Gunn’s Smokehouse & Market, where he’s spent the last 18 years.
At this point in his career, Rook has decided to compile some of his extensive culinary knowledge in a cookbook, which he’s in the process of finalizing, including the title. The book should be out after the first of the year, and will be available at Annie Gunn’s, select local bookstores and amazon.com.
“I’ve tried to look at some of my favorite things that I’ve done and food I love and get it on paper,” he says.
Rook says he’d been toying with the idea of a cookbook for a while, but it wasn’t until he was approached by his publisher, North Star Media Books, a few years ago that he actually began seriously thinking about getting the project underway. The 80 recipes in the book cover many of his favorite dishes, stretching back to his days at Grappa through his long tenure at Annie Gunn’s.
“When you sit down and put what you’ve done over the last 30 or so years down on paper, you get some perspective really quickly. It’s humbling, but at the same time, it makes you feel very proud about what you’ve done in your career. It’s been frustrating and fun at the same time,” he says, adding one of those frustrations is his keyboard abilities. “I’m a horrible typist, so I hand wrote it then had my daughter and some friends type it up for me,” he says.
Once this project is complete, Rook says he plans on doing another cookbook specifically on recipes from his tenure at Annie Gunn’s, but he has no intention of leaving the kitchen, where he still gets to pursue the love of teaching he discovered in school.
“Some of the most fun I have is taking young individuals and teaching them from the ground up to be successful in this business,” Rook says. “I get a big charge out of that.”