The three secret ingredients St. Denis and his sous chef Blessing Henderson had to cook with in the final round were shitake, oyster and portobello mushrooms, Dayton’s own Uncle Boof’s World Famous small-batch pancake mix and a Golden Madras Curry Sauce that has turmeric, tamarind and ginger as flavor agents.
St. Denis and Henderson had 25 minutes to cook in a fast-paced, nail-biting, fascinating culinary display for the crowd.
The winning dish was “Mushroom Pancake Puttanesca,” a creamy, dreamy, silky delicious mushroom fritter that crisped up perfectly to hold the delicate filling in until the first bite. St. Denis created a delightful southern Italian puttanesca sauce that played off the fritter perfectly with tomato, capers, garlic cloves, olives and all of the other big flavors you would expect.
With an impressive resume working in kitchens for over 30 years including stints in well-respected kitchens like The Winds, Tipp City’s Coldwater Café, and Sunrise Cafe in Yellow Springs, it became clear over the course of the evening that St. Denis has honed and nurtured great talent over time. Watching him working with Henderson on stage in a fast-paced, high-pressure cookoff was impressive and the dish they created showed the true depth of their skills and culinary mastery.
“All my training has been on the job, cooking was a means to support myself traveling and playing music before it developed into a full-time passion. I have been blessed to work with some really great chefs over the years and hopefully some of it has rubbed off. Corner Kitchen was re-opening at a point in my career where I was looking for a new adventure so I took the ball and ran with it,” said St. Denis. “I’ve been at the Corner Kitchen since our reopening in 2022. Initially I was hired as chef de cuisine and took over as executive chef about six months later. I think the initial vision has become more focused and guest-inspired. The restaurant was closed for nearly two years, so we used that as an opportunity to try some new things, really it’s been an amazing opportunity for me to grow and experiment.”
Corner Kitchen recently rolled out a new fall menu that includes a half roasted chicken with sweet potato hash, fennel cream mussels, a crab cake with chipotle remoulade, a roasted sweet potato and kale salad and a hot honey salmon with pickled mustard seed and green onion risotto. St. Denis and his team have launched a tapas tasting menu on weekdays as a way for diners to explore the menu and sample some smaller versions of entrees.
“(The tapas menu) is a wonderful way to experience our food and it changes weekly. We are gearing up for the holidays and already booking private parties both in our banquet room and main dining area. I really enjoy putting together featured menus for events and we still have plenty of dates left,” said St. Denis, who describes the menu as a modern, globally aware take on American comfort food.
St. Denis says he plans to roll out some fresh takes on poutine and chili as the weather cools off.
In addition to a new fall menu, the restaurant’s brunch menu has been expanded and is now offering brunch until 8 p.m. on Sundays.
“Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?,” said St. Denis. “We also have dinner for dinner if that’s your thing.”
He says the key to his success and his cooking over the years is simplicity.
“I don’t think people want to be overly challenged by their dinner so I like to keep things relatively simple. If I can’t describe it in plain language, It’s not going to make the menu. I always emphasize good technique and quality ingredients over esoteric food trends. Proper use of salt and pepper is essential,” said St. Denis. “I use the phrase ‘upscale casual’ a lot. Honestly I think that describes most good modern restaurants. The food is curated but familiar. Dining room is contemporary but comfortable. It’s a vibe for sure, but inclusive and welcoming.”
St. Denis said all of the competition in last year’s Diced challenge was soundly defeated by his former chef, Katy Evans of Coldwater Cafe. He decided to come back to the competition and try again. He shares there’s a lot it takes to get it right.
“(The Diced event) is a fun way to showcase certain skill sets for a great cause. Having some catering experience is crucial for the first round and having a good working relationship with your partner is important at the end.” said St. Denis. “Our final dish was dictated by the ingredients, so we made a savory sauce and a hot cake. Blessing, my sous chef, made some fritters to finish it which probably sealed the deal. We ended up with something relatively cohesive that I put green onions on. I was as surprised as anybody that we won, certainly could have gone either way as the crew from Rich Taste Catering (final round competitor) definitely brought it.”
Currently the Steak Frites ($25) on the Corner Kitchen menu is far and wide the restaurant’s most popular dish. Grilled petite tender steak frites on a mountain of garlic herb fries is topped with a bacon and mushroom gravy. It’s a Southern style take on a traditional French dish that has resonated with diners. The pasta dishes ($19-$35) at Corner Kitchen are very popular as well. Pasta from Grist Provisions is tossed in a vegan roasted pepper coconut cream, a traditional alfredo, or a seafood and garlic beurre blanc. Another favorite that I have enjoyed very much are the boneless short ribs ($35) served with garlic smashed potato, a black garlic-cherry demi glace, pickled onions and cilantro.
“I think all curated food is special, one hopes that their personal taste translates for other people. I often feel underwhelmed by seasoning when I eat out and personally love the interplay of sweet and hot so I try to bring that to bear in moderation,” said St. Denis. “Once I have some basic idea of a finished product I want, I will look at some resources; I have binders full of old recipes, a few cook books, and some trusted online sources that I like for inspiration. I typically run something as a feature for a while to fine tune it before adding it to the menu.” He says his goal is to continue to grow the Corner Kitchen as a mainstay in the Oregon District and the Dayton dining scene.
“Generally, I refer to our cuisine as American Bistro. Conceptually it is rooted in our collective agreement of what constitutes comfort food: meat, potatoes, pasta, veggies, greens, etc. Specifically, I see this as a world cuisine, an open ended fusion of experiences and ingredients. We put our imprint on traditional concepts in the hopes of offering something a little more exciting, a little more exotic than you might get elsewhere, but we are not trying to be innovative to the point of obfuscation. Impactful food is evocative yet familiar and comforting,” said St. Denis. “Really I just want people to have a good time and enjoy each other’s company while they are in our space. I hope our food and atmosphere inspire conversation and good vibes.”
There is a skilled choreography that happens behind the scenes in a kitchen and St. Denis and Henderson have clearly perfected that dance. Although I think the art and decor in the restaurant is some of the oddest I have seen, if you can get past looking at Darth Vader and the Joker from Batman staring back at you on the walls, the food is absolutely worth seeking out.
DAYTON EATS runs Sundays in the Life & Arts section of the Dayton Daily News and features the latest on menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and food adventures. Contact Contributing Writer Alexis Larsen at email@example.com.
How to go
What: Corner Kitchen
Where: 613 E. 5th St., Dayton
Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. featuring $10 tapas plates, $3 cocktails, $3 drafts and $5 house wine pours
More info: cornerkitchendayton.com or 937-938-5244